Thursday, February 20th, 2020
Dear Dr. Hedy Fry,
Hope this email finds you having a fantastic day.
My name is Ted Smith and last Friday, February 14th it was my pleasure to come over to Vancouver to deliver a Valentine’s Day card in person in the hopes of drawing your attention to a very serious matter. It was important for me to be a little silly and act out of love, for while I am upset over how the federal and provincial governments have legalized cannabis, it is out of compassion and love for others that drives me to act.
In 1996, I founded the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club out of a van to provide cannabis products to the seriously ill. Since then our club has grown to serve over 7,800 patients. We provide patients in Victoria and across Canada with dozens of high-quality, low-cost cannabis products available in our downtown storefront. To date, our facilities have been raided 6 times and we have beaten all 15 charges laid against staff, including a unanimous decision before the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015 that made cannabis extracts legally available to patients.
Our non-profit society had originally hoped to be able to comply with the law when legalization was first announced. As more information about the regulations became public, it became clear that attempting to immediately fully comply with the new legal scheme would mean immeasurable suffering amongst our membership and the collapse of the organization. Though we are aware it is the intention of the government to crush anyone openly defying the law, the love we have for our members outweighs the threat of punishment for helping them.
There are three main obstacles that prevent our organization from complying with legalization. First the quality, selection, and price of the products available for recreational consumers is dismal compared to the price and selection of products our club is able to offer. Second, the private smoking lounge in our club is a sanctuary that our members have relied on for years and it is unfair to force physically disabled or mentally ill patients back to the streets to use their medicine. Finally, the regulations as they are currently written, would not allow the club to own a kitchen and sell our own products in our own retail store. Most of our high quality cannabis medicines are made in our bakery and preventing the vertical integration of our business effectively cuts our patients off from the capsules, salves, suppositories, and edibles that they have relied on for decades.
When the Community Safety Unit visited our club on November 14th, 2019, it was not a surprise. In fact, we included a raid in our Strategic Plan 1.0, a link to which is attached to this letter. A raid seemed the only way to inform the public about the major problems patients are facing with the new legal scheme and how impossible it is for our club to transition without destroying everything we have worked for these past twenty four years.
In response to the raid, the Victoria mayor and council wrote a letter to the Premier on January 21st, 2020 to start a process to grant the VCBC a temporary exemption from the BC Cannabis Control and Licensing Act under Section 130. The unanimous decision to support this exemption was made without any debate because it was clear to the Victoria City Council that the problems we were facing in the initial stages of legalization should not continue to seriously harm patients who have relied on our compassion club for years. Victoria is the first city in the country to support a compassion club in asking the province for a temporary exemption from the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act. There are several reasons why we think you should support our attempt to gain an exemption.
One of the main reasons Victoria city council strongly supports the work of our club is the reality of the ongoing opiate crisis faced by patients in chronic pain who rely on pharmaceutical medicines and others who rely on street drugs. Cannabis medicines can be an excellent substitute for opiate drugs due to its strong pain relieving properties. At present, the legal recreational market only offers high prices for low quality products. Our members would likely turn to the street or go back to using more harmful drugs if the VCBC was to shut down or our medicines were no longer available.
As you may be aware, the federal and provincial governments have set mandates to address the compounding problems British Columbia citizens face such as chronic poverty, addiction to opiates; and other serious medical conditions such as cancer, arthritis, and diabetes. The actions of the CSU contradict these commitments that both levels of government have made and further entrench people into poverty, addiction, pain and despair. While conforming with the law and developing a safe supply of cannabis products for the recreational market are important components of the new legal scheme, we strongly feel that people come before profits.
If legalization was intended to eliminate the so-called black market, then it would be far better to include non-profit societies like the VCBC rather than force us and our patients back underground. Attempting to quickly and completely replace the supply chain that had been built over many years under prohibition with a heavily regulated, corporate structure has resulted in many problems, and patients should not have to suffer with a loss of access to high quality and low cost medicine. After all, if it were not for patients and their caregivers fighting for access to cannabis medicines, legalization would have never happened.
Patients should come first in the new system, not last.
Finally, while courts may accept the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations and the mail order program to be an acceptable delivery system for patients, the current legal medical cannabis program is woefully inadequate for a large portion of patients living in poverty. Patients have fewer options and more difficulty gaining access to cannabis products than recreational consumers. The information and the personal medical experience our staff provides to patients are invaluable resources to our members that are not available elsewhere. Canadians typically pride themselves on the care we provide to the sick, elderly and marginalized but the manner in which cannabis has been legalized has been a huge step backwards for our most vulnerable citizens. The current medical model requires a prescription from a family doctor or specialist, with a credit card, to a home mailing address. The obstacles to those on the margins in this model for legal medical access, are countless.
In the letter to the Premier of British Columbia, the Victoria City Council has made requests including a call for a fair hearing for this exemption and restraint from any further enforcement actions until this process has played itself out. As our club’s nearest representative in the federal government, we ask that you support our plea for a full and fair opportunity to explain our situation and how we intend on working with the government towards full compliance over time. We sincerely hope that you and the federal government will support us with this temporary exemption as it is the fair, compassionate and practical way to deal with the problems we and many others across the country are facing in this early phase of legalization.
If you have any questions about our request for an exemption please call me at 250-381-4220 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your time.
Founder, Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club
CC BC Premier, John Horgan
Victoria MLA, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, Carol James
Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety, Mike Farnworth
Victoria Mayor, Lisa Helps