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Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club meets with Health Canada a week after exemption application was rejected

Club says it’s being federally consulted on some of the same regulations it’s been fighting

Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club meets with Health Canada a week after exemption application was rejected

Club says it’s being federally consulted on some of the same regulations it’s been fighting

Members rally in 2021 after the club was raided and received an eviction notice. Photo: Zenon Kozak / Submitted
Members rally in 2021 after the club was raided and received an eviction notice. Photo: Zenon Kozak / Submitted
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club meets with Health Canada a week after exemption application was rejected

Club says it’s being federally consulted on some of the same regulations it’s been fighting

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Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club meets with Health Canada a week after exemption application was rejected
Members rally in 2021 after the club was raided and received an eviction notice. Photo: Zenon Kozak / Submitted

The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club (VCBC) met with a Health Canada panel Wednesday to review the Cannabis Act, including the medical marijuana program. Ted Smith, founder of VCBC, said that the panel was consulting VCBC about storefront access and how it better informs patients. VCBC has sought permission to sell cannabis products with a THC content higher than 10mg, the current maximum, and their exemption request was rejected by Health Canada last week.  

“It’s really ironic that one week after we get turned down from the exemption another branch of Health Canada is reaching out to us for help to see how they could make their program more like ours,” Smith told Capital Daily. “The meeting with Health Canada just shows how the right hand and the left hand don’t really know what they’re doing here.”

Founded in 1996, making it one of Canada’s oldest compassion clubs, VCBC dates back decades before legalization and currently has about 8,000 locals as members. But the legalization of its product hasn’t made VCBC itself legal. 

It’s been operating unlicensed and in violation of not only limits on THC but also on being both a seller and producer (it has its own kitchen for creating chocolates, salves, and other goods). It seeks medical proof of conditions but not doctors’ prescriptions, making it not a recognized medical dispensary but also not a legal recreational one. 

Raising THC limits and allowing licensed storefronts are changes Smith said he hopes will come out of the consultations with the panel, which will make recommendations for the medical marijuana program to Health Canada

Application sought higher THC limits 

VCBC had tried to get those allowances for itself by applying for one of the exemptions Health Canada can gant for medical, scientific, or other public-interest reasons. Its application argued that many of its customers require a higher THC concentration for medical cannabis use, including to treat cancer and chronic pain.  Member-turned-staffer Nikki Jackson told Capital Daily in 2021 that the club was the only place many members can get the quality or price they need in order to treat their conditions. 

The exemption request, first sent in 2021, included testimonies from some of those patients, as well as from experts such as the UVic-based Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and from the City of Victoria, which in the past has also advocated for VCBC to both Health Canada and the province.

Health Canada maintained that VCBC had not proven that the exemption was necessary for medical purposes. It argued in part that individual products need not reach higher concentrations for consumers to consume the total amount they require. 

VCBC insists that it’s unrealistic to expect people to buy and consume numerous 10mg items every day, tweeting “it blows my mind that a Health Canada bureaucrat could imagine a person who requires 1000mg THC should eat 100 gummies.” 

Training and non-profit grants among other recs to panel

In addition to addressing the issues VCBC has faced directly, Smith also hopes that the panel will recommend training programs for medical marijuana budtenders to prepare them on how to best teach patients about medical cannabis usage. He also wants it to support grants being made available to non-profit societies who retail medical cannabis. 

“It is very difficult for nonprofits to raise capital and so without having some extra benefits or incentives from the government to do that we would just see Shoppers Drug Mart and other big businesses jumping into it instead of really community based nonprofit societies like ours,” said Smith. 

Joining legal system would open up more health pathways

VCBC’s request for exemption will now be presented before a federal judge, a process that will take time. 

“We are confident that we will be able to convince a judge that patients need over 10mg,” said Smith. “In fact, it may be that those laws will have already been changed. The 10mg limit is one that even Mike Farnworth, [BC’s] solicitor general, is arguing needs to be changed, and that’s for recreational use.”   

“We want to become legal, we don’t want to continue to fight in court or otherwise with our governments, we want to work with them,” said Smith. The transition into the legal system would allow VCBC to conduct research on the safety and efficiency of cannabis edibles with high THC dosages. The exemption would also allow VCBC to incorporate a nurse practitioner into their operations. 

“We want to be a part of the solution to the opioid crisis, we feel cannabis has not been given its proper place in that and that it’s still being treated like a dangerous substance, when instead it should be substituted for oxycodone and other opioids,” said Smith. 

Club also in legal fight over raids

The club first faced raids and charges two decades ago, which it won on constitutional grounds, and a decade ago won a Supreme Court case that expanded the definition of medical marijuana to include edibles. 

In the past several years, its noncompliance has led to a series of raids conducted by the BC Community Safety Unit (CSU), and an eviction notice, which Capital Daily covered in 2021

This March, VCBC was raided once again by the CSU and faces $6 million in fines for violation of provincial licensing rules. In response it filed a lawsuit and injunction against the provincial and federal governments. 

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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