No surprises here.
The initial arrows have been sent back and forth, defensive positions are being taken and allies are being sent for. Do not despair when reading this email. This battle has just begun in a war that has raged for decades, and this email is by no means a game changer.
After months of waiting for a response from the province after the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club wrote requesting a fair hearing to obtain an exemption, a request that was also unanimously supported by city council, the B.C. Cannabis Secretariat has answered. No one expected the province to quickly and easily grant us an exemption, so being told no was not a surprise. In many ways being told no right away only plays into our hands, though in some ways this might not even be a firm no!
From the beginning to the end of this email, the director of the B.C Cannabis Secretariat, Mary Shaw, indicates that Health Canada is the body of government that has the capacity to grant the VCBC an exemption that would cover most of the problems we face. Clearly we were aware that Health Canada held most of the power in this situation but since the province was the disciplinary arm of the legislation it was critical to start with them in the hope to avoid further punitive measures. A letter has been sent to the federal government through MP Hedy Fry to begin a dialogue but no response has been received to date.
There will be multiple reactions to this email. Our new lawyers, JFK Law Corporation, will be writing a letter to introduce themselves as our representatives and inquire about how this decision might be appealed. We will also inform city council about this development and hope that they are also able to write to Health Canada to inquire about how the VCBC could obtain a temporary exemption. We will also be launching a letter writing campaign to the B.C. Cannabis Secretariat for our members and supporters to help us.
It is unclear at this time if the city has also received a letter from Mary Shaw but it is expected they will get one soon as they wrote to the province first. The support of Victoria city council, the raid, or the massive fine the club expects were not mentioned in the letter at all! The tone of the email is much more apologetic than threatening.
We will keep the public posted regarding any future developments or opportunities to assist the club in its fight to stay alive. Weekly rallies have been cancelled and in the fall targeted rallies will be organized to keep the attention of stakeholders.
Dear Ted Smith:
Thank you for your February 28, 2020 email regarding a temporary exemption for the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club under section 130 of the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act. I apologise for the delay in my response. I am not able to meet at this time, but am pleased to respond to the issues raised in your email.
As you likely know, while the Province is responsible for regulating non-medical cannabis sales, Health Canada regulates medical cannabis, including access and sales. Storefront sales are not permitted under the federal medical cannabis regime. In addition, under both provincial and federal criminal law, it is illegal to sell cannabis that was not produced by a producer licensed by Health Canada. While I appreciate the intentions expressed in your proposal, the Province will not authorize sales of cannabis that are illegal under federal criminal law.
Your letter also indicates that the types of product available on the legal market do not meet the needs of your clients. The federal government is responsible for determining the types of cannabis products legal for sale in Canada, including maximum THC. We recognize that the 10 mg cap on the amount of THC permitted in cannabis edibles may mean that these products are not suitable for some medical users. Ingestible extracts are allowed to contain higher levels of THC, and may therefore be a better fit. If there are other classes of products you believe should be permitted, I encourage you to share those views with Health Canada.
With respect to concerns about the ability of lower income medical users to pay for legal medical cannabis, you may be interested to know that prices for legal cannabis products are trending down; in the BC non-medical market, we are now seeing some dried flower priced below $5/gram. As well, some medical users may be able to access lower pricing through the compassionate pricing programs offered by many licensed producers.
Finally, thank you for your feedback about vertical integration; we are undertaking policy work to explore options to support the development of a robust and diverse legal cannabis industry in British Columbia and will consider your comments in our analysis. However, even if the Province were to enable some form of vertical integration, it would only apply to producers properly licensed by Health Canada.
I appreciate your taking the time to share information about the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, and I encourage you to contact Health Canada to determine whether there is a type of licence that could allow you to continue to provide certain services to your clients. You may also wish to share with them your views about the importance of enabling medical users to access cannabis through a storefront model. You can contact Health Canada at: email@example.com.
Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat
Here is the email that Mary Shaw was responding to.
Other letters from the mayor and council to the B.C. Secretariat and the VCBC letter to Hedy Fry, plus other information, are available at the Cannabis Digest.
February 28th, 2020
BC Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat
To Mary Shaw,
I am writing to request your support in granting the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club (VCBC) a temporary exemption to the BC Cannabis Control and Licensing Act, as outlined in Section #130.
My name is Ted Smith and I am writing as the President and founder of the VCBC. We are a 24 year old cannabis compassion club that provides low cost, high quality medicine to sick and impoverished medical patients in Victoria, BC and across Canada. On November 14th, 2019 our club was raided by the Community Safety Unit (CSU) for our non-compliance with the current regulations.
After this devastating act, we petitioned the city and other local politicians for their support. On January 21st, 2020 the Victoria Mayor and city council voted unanimously and without debate to write to the province to express the municipality’s support in requesting an exemption from the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act for our compassion club. I am writing to describe the political situation our organization faces, to outline the support we have gained, and to request a temporary exemption for the VCBC.
Since these cannabis regulations are very new legislation, we understand we may be the first in requesting an exemption. We can appreciate that the process to apply for and receive exemptions might not be entirely fleshed out yet.
First, a bit more about the VCBC. We operate as a medical user only facility and have been from the beginning. To purchase with our club, patients must provide proof of a chronic medical condition to access our products and to consume their medicine in our safe and dignified private smoking lounge.
When the club was founded 24 years ago, little was known about the medical uses of cannabis. However, it was clear that people suffering from AIDS, Hepatitis C, cancer, chronic pain and other serious medical conditions were able to find relief from their symptoms by smoking, eating and topically applying cannabis products. The past 24 years at the VCBC have been defined by our persistent and humble resistance to unsensible cannabis regulations. In that time our facilities have survived being raided 6 times, and succeeded in seeing all 15 charges laid against staff overturned in court using various constitutional arguments.
As it stands, if we were to fully comply with the regulations as they are written we would put the lives of marginalized, poor, and chronically sick people at risk. Our club provides cannabis medicine at a fraction of the price as compared to the legal medical market. We also supply a range of products including suppositories, high dose edibles, and topicals that are not permitted in the legal medical market.
Our most famous contribution to medical cannabis law in Canada was the unanimous 2015 Smith decision where the Supreme Court of Canada declared cannabis extracts and edibles legal for patients. That decision had multiple effects, forcing the legal medical institutions to recognize the significant benefits of eating cannabis for the seriously ill. Before this decision, Health Canada considered smoking cannabis to be the only legal and constitutional way for patients to consume medical cannabis. Shortly after the Smith decision, the federal Liberals added legalization to their election platform.
We hope to work with your office in designing a plan towards full compliance with the law. We do not want to operate illegally, but we want to develop a plan to become legal that will keep the needs of patients at the centre of the discussion.
Our organization faces multiple barriers to transitioning into the legal system such as the costs of licensing and rezoning, the inability to provide the range and dose of products our members rely on, as well as having to close our smoking lounge. Additionally, if we were to comply with the laws as they are now, we would risk compromising the health of our patients and would risk the financial ruin of our non-profit society. Of course we want to comply with the law and become legal, but we will only make that change as it unfolds with the best interests of our patients in mind, many of whom are poor or living on fixed disability incomes.
As I discussed above, we provide many products that are simply unavailable in the legal medical market right now and thousands of our patients rely on everyday. Because we are a small scale non-profit compassion club, we have been making our own infused cannabis edibles in house for the past two decades. Our bakery is the heart of our business, and over the years we have developed healthy, consistent, and high potency cannabis products that thousands of patients use to subside their pain and allow them to function as contributing members of society.
As it stands in the legal market, we would not be allowed to vertically integrate our bakery and our retail store. Vertical integration of production and distribution is an integral component of our business and is our only method of guaranteeing the quality, price, and consistency of products for our patients.
The VCBC has had a turbulent relationship with cannabis laws over the years. However, our goodwill with the community is immeasurable and is the result of decades of consistent non-violent action, being good neighbours, focusing on patient care, putting patients before profits, and paying all applicable business taxes to our municipality, province and other governmental agencies.
We have been an asset to the city of Victoria, and the country as a whole, and we are renowned for our compassion to the needs of medical patients. We have a great relationship with the Victoria Police Department and our City Council. In all of our interactions with governmental authorities we are polite, friendly, and kind. Over time we have earned a deep embrace by this city for helping the sick and marginalized while never wavering in our determination to do what’s right.
Perhaps the most compelling argument to allow us to continue operating lies in the horrifying realities of the opioid crisis in our province. Cannabis, especially when eaten, can be an excellent pain reliever, controls nausea and stimulates appetite, and provides general symptom management for opioid withdrawal. Cannabis is an ideal medicine for patients looking to cut down or quit using opiate drugs. If this government is serious in any way about helping poor citizens struggling with opiates, then enforcing these new regulations would be a contradiction to its own mandates to address addiction, poverty and improving health care services.
We are asking for an opportunity to present our case before your office in person, as the BC Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat, so we can discuss how a temporary exemption to the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act might take place. Anything less than an in person meeting would not be fair, as this is a complex situation that deserves careful thought and human interaction. The mayor and city council supported this exemption with just cause and it is incumbent that the provincial government puts in an honest effort to consider how this temporary exemption might unfold.
In the letter written by the Victoria city council in January, the Mayor requests that the province hold off any further enforcement action until the an exemption for the VCBC has been fully considered. As you can see, attempts to further inflict penalties against us, before all legal avenues have been exhausted, would be cruel and unnecessary. It is our intent to appeal any further punitive actions taken by the province through the court system.
Municipalities should have substantial influence in shaping the way legalization looks in their communities. Cities that do not want cannabis stores have been allowed to ban the retail sale of cannabis products in their region. Communities that wish to protect long-standing compassion clubs should be granted the same respect and authority. Since cities witness the negative consequences of policies created by distant higher levels of government, extra measures should be taken to ensure the voices of municipalities have a place at the regulating table, especial when considering vulnerable populations.
Included in this email is a link to a letter I recently wrote to Vancouver federal Liberal MP, Hedy Fry. The document explains more about why we feel this exemption is critical for our members. The VCBC has been fighting for equitable cannabis regulation for years and we hold significant support for our club amongst politicians and the public. As long as your Ministry shows some patience and cooperation, there is every reason to know that we will transition the VCBC into the legal system smoothly, over time, and in ways that will benefit our members and the health of British Columbians more broadly. Meeting in person and a serious consideration of a temporary exemption for our longstanding club would demonstrate a sincere concern for the voices of cannabis patients.
We are preparing a report that will contain more detailed information on the background of our non-profit society and the current status of the VCBC. We will also provide a proposed guideline for the exemption so as to get started on the work of drafting the details of how a temporary exemption would take place. It is our intention to have this report available to you within the next month.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss this proposal further, please do not hesitate to contact me at 250-381-4220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Founder, Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club
John Horgan, BC Premier
Mike Farnworth, BC Minister of Public Safety
Carole James. BC Deputy Premier, BC Minister of Finance, Victoria MLA
Hedy Fry, Vancouver Liberal MP
Lisa Helps, Victoria Mayor