For 25 years, the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club has been providing Greater Victoria people with the means to treat chronic pain. Last week, they were told they must go.
Having existed long before cannabis was legalized in Canada, cannabis compassion clubs were created to provide safe access to medical marijuana in a time when its use was widely unaccepted. The clubs required patients to show medical documentation and, in return, gave them the products and community they needed to ease their pain.
Since legalization in 2018, Victoria’s club has been in a battle with the province and Health Canada to be exempt from federal standards – standards that owner Ted Smith said don’t meet clients needs.
“Our typical patient would be 55 or 60 years old with arthritis or other chronic pains and maybe a recent cancer diagnosis,” Smith said. In an average month, he said the club sees between 3,000 and 3,500 clients.
There are three main differences between the products Smith’s club provides and federally-regulated ones: price, potency and methods of use.
Looking at a standard package of two 5-milligram cannabis cookies at a regulated shop in Victoria, the cost is about $13. Smith said they sell a cookie with 60 to 65 milligrams for $2.50. The same can be said for the club’s other products – they are by far more affordable and more potent. The main reason for the difference in potency is that legalized cannabis products have a 10 milligram cap.
Smith said that limit is ridiculously low for some of his clients with severe pain, pointing out that the club often sells 130 milligram capsules to cancer patients. Higher quantities of THC can also serve as an alternative to opioid use, Smith said, noting the record number of overdose deaths in B.C. last year.
The club also carries certain products that aren’t widely available at legal dispensaries, including salves, creams and suppositories. Increasingly Smith said, they are having elderly people reaching out who want a way to ease their pain without having to smoke the product or break the bank.
The club has been raided multiple times since legalization, but on Feb. 8, Smith said, the club’s landlord received a letter from the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General threatening possible fines or jail time if they didn’t terminate the club’s lease.
The club has until the end of March to leave. “We’re preparing to fight for sure,” Smith said. “We’re not just gonna walk away from this.”
The club has been working on an application for exemption with a legal team for nearly a year, and expects it to be complete by the end of February. In the meantime, it’s planning on transitioning to mail order and intends to set up a tent outside city hall five days a week for sales.
Starting Wednesday, Feb. 17, the club planned to hold daily protests outside the Ministry of Health building.
Smith said the last time Victoria’s Cannabis Buyers Club heard from the province was last August, when Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth responded to a letter from the City of Victoria that implored his ministry to look into issuing the club an exemption. At that time, Farnworth wrote he had “encouraged exploration of a license” to his federal counterpart that could allow the club to continue to provide certain services.