Help The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club Stay Alive
Written by Ted Smith,
Edited by Jacqueline Kittel

It has been less than a month since the Community Safety Unit raided the VCBC on November 14th, 2019. We were raided by the CSU, accompanied by the Victoria Police, and thousands of dollars worth of cannabis medicine were stolen. We were raided because we will not comply with laws that would leave members without high quality, inexpensive medicines which is what is offered to patients in the legal market. The VCBC opened the very next day at 3pm on November 15th after the raid because we will not stop serving patients who rely on us every day for their medical needs. We anticipate further disciplinary actions will be taken against us for non-compliance including attempts to seize the property from the landlord or targeting our board of directors. Therefore we are engaging in proactive attempts to stop the government from proceeding with further punitive actions.

We have conducted an at length review of The Cannabis Control and Licensing Act, which has revealed a possible pathway for the club to survive and eventually transition into the legal system. Section #130 of the act grants the Lieutenant Governor the power to exempt organizations from any parts of the act that they so choose, for as long as they choose. The Cannabis Control and Licensing Act is new legislation and there appears to be no process in place for such an exemption at this time. However there are many reasons to consider this our best option to survive in face of the obstacles legalization has produced. We may have an opportunity to make history again by setting a new legal precedent and securing reasonable access to high quality medicine for medical cannabis patients. 

At present we are not connected with the Lieutenant Governor, but we do have strong support from the Victoria city council which may be advantageous. On Thursday December 12th, shortly after 6:30pm, Ted Smith will present a proposal to city council in their evening meeting. I will make a presentation to ask for the council’s assistance in organizing a meeting with the Lieutenant Governor about a possible exemption for the VCBC to the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act. With the support of Victoria city council, it would be very difficult for the Lieutenant Governor to refuse our request for a meeting and to grant the exemption.

To make this happen we need help from all corners to apply pressure to Victoria city council. We need activated citizens to send letters to the mayor of Victoria and the city council to arrange an opportunity to meet with the Lieutenant Governor to discuss this exemption. Simultaneously, we will be asking the BC NDP and federal Liberals not to oppose this exemption if they are not able to support it.

We urge writers to focus on the BC government’s own mandated goals they have stated and to demonstrate the ways in which the raids against the VCBC directly contradict their own internal goals. Below is a link to a letter written by John Horgan, the BC Premier, to Mike Farnworth, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. Mike Farnworth is the director of the Ministry that directs the CSU and is responsible for this raid.

The mandates listed in the document below outline the internally established goals set by the current provincial government.

https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/government/ministries-organizations/premier-cabinet-mlas/minister-letter/farnworth-mandate.pdf

The mandates set by the NDP and Green Party Coalition are as follows: 

“Our first commitment is to make life more affordable. Too many families were left behind for too long by the previous government. They are counting on you to do your part to make their lives easier”

“Our second commitment is to deliver the services that people count on. Together, we can ensure that children get access to the quality public education they need to succeed, that families can get timely medical attention, and that our senior citizens are able to live their final years with dignity”

“Our third key commitment is to build a strong, sustainable, innovative economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and the well-connected. Together, we are going to tackle poverty and inequality, create good-paying jobs in every corner of the province, and ensure people from every background have the opportunity to reach their full potential.These three commitments along with your specific ministerial objectives should guide your work and shape your priorities from day to day. I expect you to work with the skilled professionals in the public service to deliver on this mandate”

There is such a disconnect happening in our government that politicians can tell each other this is how they behave, and turn around and direct public servants to conduct injustices against British Columbians. Our government is turning a blind eye to obvious violations of their own principles by their own employees. If there is such a commitment to their above described mandates, the BC government should stand aside and admit their shortcomings and cooperate with the VCBC and the Lieutenant Governor. 

In reference to the BC Government’s third mandate, tackling poverty does not mean forcing low income patients to pay exorbitant prices for their medicine. The VCBC provides accessible and high quality medicine to those whose lives depend on it daily. The current offering of legal cannabis products is costly, has questionable quality, and a severely limited range of options. Seizing thousands of dollars of medicine from low income and marginalized populations guarantees the further entrenchment of poverty in our province. 

Rather than work with longstanding industry experts such as us ourselves and others, the government has heavily favoured the wealthy and well-connected in the development of the legal cannabis industry. BC Cannabis is an industry that became legal thanks to the hard work and activism of patients who fought for their right to use this medicine. The fight is unfortunately long from over.

At the end of the aforementioned letter, the Premiere of BC John Horgan, gave specific directions to Mike Farnworth that stated he was responsible for putting together a plan to transition a multi-billion dollar industry in a safe manner. The raids against the VCBC and other dispensaries across BC represents an attempt by government to force patients back to the streets to source medicines they can afford. So long as the legal market neglects the needs of patients and refuses to offer the medicine they need as an accessible price, they are not making anyone safer. 

John Horgan instructed Mike Farnsworth to, “(l)ead the provincial government’s planning for the safe implementation of legalized cannabis.” The agency that stole medicine from patients is called the Community Safety Unit to make it seem as if they are keeping us safe from the threat of illegal cannabis. The police officers who accompanied to the CSU while the took over our club and stole from a non-profit society that helps the sick and vulnerable was far from our understanding of the word “safe” and reaks of hypocrisy. 

The BC government has declared the opiate epidemic to be a province wide crisis that needs to be resolved immediately. High dose cannabis products are an ideal and effective alternative to opiate use for chronic pain. Strong cannabis edibles are also exceptionally useful in treating the withdrawal symptoms of opiate addiction. Removing resources from opiate users threatens livelihoods and undermines our community’s efforts to provide safe and effective alternatives. Therefore, the raids represent further acts by government in perpetuating cycles of harm in our communities.

Letters sent to the mayor, city council, MLAs, MPs, the Lieutenant Governor and to various bureaucrats ought to include the mandates the government has set out and how the actions against the cannabis community are a direct violation of their own stated values. In the new year we will be encouraging other targeted letter writing campaigns to other government officials and we will quote different mandates. In this case however, calling politicians out on the gross discrepancy between the government’s goals and its actions is sadly far to easy in this instance.

There is only a short window of time for us to pressure the mayor and council to support this temporary exemption from the Cannabis Control And Licensing Act granted by the Lieutenant Governor. In letters written to the mayor and council, please “c/c” your local MLA to ensure your voice is heard by your local representative. 

In referring to our struggle to keep the club alive, I often claim we are fighting back on land, sea and air. This means we are standing up to them on the ground as we continue to supply medicine. We are attempting to flood their emails and phones with messages of discontent. And we are gathering and taking up air space where they cannot ignore us.

There will be no peace until patients are taken care of in a dignified and compassionate manner.

Sincerely, 

Ted Smith and the VCBC Team.

Politicians to contact to voice your concerns:

MLA:
John Horgan
john.horgan.mla@leg.bc.ca

Mike Farnworth
mike.farnworth.mla@leg.bc.ca

Carole James
Carole.James.mla@leg.bc.ca

Victoria City council:
Mayor Lisa Helps
mayor@victoria.ca

Councillor Marianne Alto
malto@victoria.ca

Councillor Sharmarke Dubow
sdubow@victoria.ca

Councillor Ben Isitt
bisitt@victoria.ca 

Councillor Jeremy Loveday
jloveday@victoria.ca

Councillor Sarah Potts
spotts@victoria.ca

Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe
cthornton-joe@victoria.ca

Councillor Geoff Young
gyoung@victoria.ca