This Jan marks 20 years since I first started to deliver cannabis products to people suffering from serious medical problems from the van in which I lived, handing out pamphlets around Victoria with a pager number. Twenty years later, the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club is the oldest medical cannabis dispensary in the entire world and is on the verge of getting a license to operate from the municipal government. The club will be holding its Annual General Meeting and a potluck on Jan 31 to celebrate this huge milestone.
Our unanimous victory last year before the Supreme Court of Canada will be remembered as the club’s greatest contribution to the movement. Former head baker Owen Smith has become a national hero for helping force the government to allow patients to use cannabis derivatives instead of just the raw herb. However, this is a victory our entire club can share, as the testimony of the four ladies from the VCBC was certainly critical in convinces the judges these laws were unconstitutional and there is no way Owen could have paid for and prepared his defense alone. This court victory was a team effort and we should all be proud of our work.
With an active membership of just over 4,000 members, the VCBC is one of the largest dispensaries in the country and one of the largest non-profit societies on Vancouver Island. For many members, the club has become much like a family and there is a energy within the space that does not exist in any other dispensary, store, church, hospital or soup kitchen. After two decades this group has seen its members go through marriages and divorces, babies and graduations, along with far too many deaths to keep track of, bringing us together as close as any family can be.
This will be just the third AGM of the club because I did not incorporate it as a non-profit society until 2012. Revenue Canada came after me for not collecting GST, forcing me to declare bankruptcy against $250,000 in taxes I never collected. While I did not have to turn the club into a non-profit society, this was the perfect opportunity for me to let the club go so it could evolve and grow without depending upon me.
That is when Dieter MacPherson stepped up to the plate to replace me as commander-in-chief. In order to help with a smooth transition he was given the position of executive director and president of the board of directors. Dieter has risen to the challenge. He has been very involved in the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries and has worked very hard with Victoria city staff as they prepare to license dispensaries.
One problem with the new regulations, though, is the fact the city wants to shut down the club’s safe inhalation site. We hope to encourage members of the club to help inform the council about the very important functions this room serves to the members so they do not force it closed. For many members this room is what makes our club so special and it would be a devastating loss.
Another future problem the club faces is the federal government’s legalization plans. It appears as though the Liberals plan on allowing provinces to determine how they will regulate the sale and production of cannabis, much like alcohol is controlled. It is unclear whether the current provincial Liberals will cave to pressure from unions and restrict sales to government-owned store or actually work with the existing industry to ensure a smooth transition over to a legal system. With Vancouver, Victoria and Naniamo looking to license dispensaries before these plans come into effect, there is a good chance dispensaries as they now exist will become legal but there is certainly no guarantee.
With all that ahead, the board of directors will be very busy in the next few years transforming the VCBC into an even greater force of nature. After many years of providing high quality medicinal cannabis products to patients, our club has a lot to be proud of simply for having survived 4 police raids, multiple thefts and other threats, while keeping its doors open at its storefront every single day since it opened in March 2001. Having changed Canadian law to allow the use and sale of cannabis extracts, the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club is proud to be one of the most influential cannabis organizations in the country.