Crack pipe vending machines exist in Canada

When we were leaving a Kmart the other day, I wasted two quarters trying to win one of those Despicable Me minions out of a claw machine because I'm a child. But, of course, I didn't win the Despicable Me minion because those machines are bullsh** and they don't work, anymore. When I was growing up, I'd win scores of stuffed animals and T-shirts down the Shore because I'd put that claw in the exact position it needed to be in. Then, I'd press the red button and the claw would go DOWN-CLAMP-UP. Now, these machines go DOWN-UP-CLAMP. It's a bunch of bullsh**.

The point of that story is that, for the price of one charade of an shot at winning that minion in the entrance of that Kmart, I could have gotten two crack pipes from a vending machine in Canada.

A non-profit called the Portland Hotel Society advocates and provides services for folks struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues. In Canada, they're the force behind the movement to combat the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV through sharing crack pipes by installing crack pipe vending machines in Vancouver.

Obviously, Vice is all over the controversial story.

One of the machines is located at PHS’s bustling Drug Users Resource Centre. As I arrive there with Mariner, people greet each other as a writing workshop wraps up, while others queue up for lunch. I ask if anyone wants to talk to me about the vending machine that stood in the corner.

Joe looks at me like I’m an idiot, then smiles, and adds: “It’s a vending machine, what else do you need to know?” He says he uses it all the time and that “a quarter is way better than what’d you have to pay on the street.” A bit of a debate kicks off about how to improve the machines e.g. including other crack related supplies: lighters, push sticks, etc.

A woman named DJ chimes in. She uses the machine and tells her friends about it. She says she’d like to see more pipe vending machines around the Downtown Eastside. “But bolt them down… People go: ‘Hey, pipes!’ And shake it to get them to drop out for free.” Mariner nods his head, all too aware of the shaken machine dilemma.

Mariner hopes that distributing pipes will one day be as accepted a practice as handing out needles to IV drug users has become. He says, “the stigma around crack use is much higher than, say, heroin or any other drug. There’s a particular quality of panic.” And he worries about the possible sensationalism that the vending machines might attract from more conservative commentators.

To learn more about PHS and the movement to provide safer smoking paraphernalia to Vancouver residents, check out the full story over at Vice.