Activism Legal

Exemption Denied: Health Canada Shuts Door on Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club

For Immediate Release

Friday June 2, 2023

Exemption Denied: Health Canada Shuts Door on Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club

Victoria, B.C.:  Despite multiple letters of support from the City of Victoria, a series of letters from drug policy experts and over 300 patient testimonials; Health Canada has denied a request from the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club for an exemption from the Cannabis Act.  Health Canada has claimed that they have come to deny the VCBC exemption application because they do not see its services acting in the public interest.  The full outline of their reasoning for this decision was sent to the VCBC on May 30, 2023.  Now the organization has 60 days to file for a judicial review, which was anticipated from the beginning of this process.

Founder Ted Smith is confident that a judicial review will rule in favor of the VCBC.  “This has been very frustrating for the patients and staff of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club.  We look forward to taking our case to the judiciary to prove that Health Canada continues to violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of sick and dying Canadians with their unacceptable medical cannabis program.”

Significant problems continue to exist with the federal medical cannabis program, which has forced the VCBC to continue operating outside of the legal framework to prevent from seriously compromising the health and well-being of its patients.  Two of the biggest problems with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations are the 10 mg THC limit on edible products and the fact that mail order does not work for all patients, in particular the poor, elderly and physically disabled.  As a result of our non-compliance, the VCBC has been raided by the B.C. Community Safety Unit three times since legalization in 2018 and faces fines of almost $6.5 million so far.

After filing for an exemption in April 2021, the VCBC waited until February of this year before Health Canada informed us that the application was unlikely to be successful in a Letter of Intent to Deny.  In that letter, Health Canada states that the main reasons it cannot grant the exemption were because the club relied on cannabis from illegal producers and the lack of medical oversight.  In response, the VCBC agreed to completely transition over to a legal supply of all cannabis upon receiving the exemption, and that it would also hire a nurse practitioner to oversee the introduction of new members and to provide additional medical advice regarding dosage or drug interactions.

In the Notice of Refusal, David Pellmann, Acting Director General in the Licensing and Medical Access Directorate explains some of the reasons Health Canada justifies this position, despite the concessions made by the club.  The second last paragraph of the refusal letter sheds light on a major problem patients are having with the legal medical cannabis program and highlights the very reason this exemption is necessary for patients attempting to properly use cannabis as medicine.

“In the March 10, 2023 response you indicated that the VCBC could not operate as a provincial authorized retailer because the organization would be prohibited from providing medical information, advice and/or guidance to members in relation to using cannabis products for medical purposes.  We wish to remind you that the prohibition on making medical claims in relation to cannabis products is not limited to provincially or territory authorized storefronts.  Under subsection 104.12(1) of the Cannabis Regulations, it is prohibited to promote cannabis, a cannabis accessory or a service related to cannabis if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the promotion could create the impression that health or cosmetic benefits may be derived from the use of the product.  This provision of the regulations applies regardless of whether the cannabis is intended for medical purposes.”

This subsection has created a nightmare for patients across Canada who can only legally get medical information about using cannabis from doctors and nurse practitioners, many of whom will not even discuss cannabis. The lack of access to health care practitioners willing to prescribe medical cannabis in Canada is well documented, never mind those who can’t even access a GP. Therefore under the current system patients are only able to obtain ongoing support if they pay a private clinic a fee to consult a doctor, something unaffordable to the majority of people who use cannabis as medicine. The strained medical system and lack of doctors has forced most people that use cannabis as medicine to purchase from recreational stores, where patients are barred from learning the proper medical uses of cannabis and how to find the proper dosage levels or products.

Lawyers Jack Lloyd and Kirk Tousaw have been preparing for years to convince a judge that an exemption for a medical storefront is in the public interest, especially with the opiate crisis continuing to spiral out of control.  

At the same time as this is proceeding, the VCBC has also filed a lawsuit and injunction against the provincial government and Health Canada to seek relief from the punitive measures taken by the B.C. Community Safety Unit.  No date for the hearing has been set.

Link to the application

Link to the intent to refuse
Intent to Refuse Feb 8 2023.pdf

Link to VCBC response to intent to deny

 Intent to Deny reply

Link to the refusal

Notice of refusal -VCBC.pdf

For more information contact Ted Smith at 250-415-1063 or