The man who opened the first store in Canada openly selling tested heroin, cocaine, meth, and MDMA has died of an overdose.
Jerry Martin died in Vancouver on Friday, a few days after he was hospitalized due to a suspected fentanyl overdose, according to his partner Krista Thomas. He was 51 years old.
Although Martin survived the overdose initially, he remained unresponsive in hospital and his family eventually decided to take him off life support. He previously told VICE News he had been addicted to cocaine and had been homeless for much of his youth.
“Jerry believed that people were self-medicating their trauma and so long as they were doing that, they needed a safe supply to do it,” Thomas said.
“He’s no more exempt than any other human being on this earth. He had his own trauma and unfortunately, he relapsed.”
She said it wasn’t clear if he intended to use fentanyl or not, but that he wasn’t a known opioid user.
In May, Martin opened The Drugs Store—the first brick-and-mortar shop in Canada and the U.S. openly selling drugs that had been tested to ensure they did not contain fentanyl of other harmful adulterants. He was arrested within 24 hours of opening the store in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the epicenter of Canada’s overdose crisis.
“I am giving them addictive drugs but I’m giving them safer addictive drugs than you can get on the street, where they might be laced with fentanyl or some other drug,” Martin told VICE News during the opening.
“He wanted to save lives,” Thomas said Friday.
British Columbia is in the midst of a three-year pilot project decriminalizing small amounts of drugs, but selling remains illegal. The province also has safe supply projects where drug users are given pharmaceutical alternatives to street drugs, including prescription heroin. But harm reduction activists and addictions experts have told VICE News these programs are still not widely accessible.
At the time of Martin’s arrest, Vancouver police said they supported harm reduction services but “drug trafficking will continue to be the subject of enforcement.”
Martin later told VICE News his drugs and mobile shop had been seized. He had struggled with funding and finding a space to open before eventually purchasing the mobile store.
Police also banned him from returning to the Downtown Eastside. But about a month after his arrest, he told VICE News he was still planning to re-open in a pop-up store model one day.
“He was definitely self-sacrificing,” Thomas said, adding that one of the things she’ll miss about Martin is his stubbornness and the fact that they were both “a little crazy.”
Getting to know Martin humbled her, she said, and she believes his compassion for marginalized people will leave a mark.
“It absolutely opened up my world to so many people that I may not have crossed paths with before, I may not have taken the time to understand. I think that that’s one of the gifts he brings to the world.”
While he knew there was a huge risk to fulfilling his vision, “more than anything he felt like it was his thing to do and it was what he had left to do in the world.”
Thomas said Martin acknowledged that while he might be the one to “break the mold” with The Drugs Store, “someone else might come in behind him and have more structure, process, resources, and be able to complete the job.”
Martin had hoped to launch a constitutional challenge, arguing that the laws against giving people a safe supply of drugs is resulting in poisoning deaths in contravention of section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That section argues that Canadians have “the right to life, liberty, and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
“People are dying,” Martin previously told VICE News. “Especially now, they’ve allowed the entire province to do these drugs… But they’ve provided no clean, safe supply. They’re getting it from the same supply that everybody’s overdosing from.”
Martin was previously tied up in a court battle for years after launching a constitutional challenge about Canada’s cannabis laws, arguing that medical cannabis patients should be able to use dispensaries rather than the mail order system.
Thomas said there’s still a possibility of launching the constitutional challenge about safe supply after his death, but it would require backing from someone who could provide funding.
In February 2022, VICE News interviewed Martin’s stepbrother Gord Rennie as part of the documentary Beyond Fentanyl, which investigated the synthetic drugs wave of the overdose crisis.
Rennie, who used benzo dope—a combination of fentanyl and ultra potent benzodiazepines, died of an overdose before the documentary aired.
Martin said he felt inspired to open his store after Rennie overdosed. He said he regretted not allowing his stepbrother to stay with him when he got out of jail, just prior to Rennie’s death.
“My mom said I should invite him over and I didn’t and he died that day,” he said.
He had hoped his store would inspire similar shops around the country.
“The more of these out there, the safer it’s going to be for everybody,” he said.
Thomas said Martin had great intentions but may have been overwhelmed by the reality of what his vision entailed. And she wished he had had more support.
“When we see people out there like that, it would be great if we didn’t just rally behind them in the comments and social media, but really reached out and connected with people and [said] ‘Here’s what I can do to help.’ And then maybe we would achieve more things that so many everyday people want so badly to be able to do and just maybe don’t have the means to do.”