Founded in January 1996, the VCBC is the oldest compassion club in the world, with a growing membership of more than 7,000 patients. From the beginning, one of the fundamental pillars of the club has been the provision of food and skin products, which were historically not available in the black market and were not recognized as beneficial by the medical establishment. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms a patient’s right to choose their course of medical treatment. The VCBC has crafted its mandate to provide medical patients with medicinal cannabis based on this fundamental freedom of Canadian citizens.
Possessing little more than a pager and a pamphlet, the VCBC did not even have scales when it began distributing cannabis medicine to those in need.
In 2001 the club moved to a commercial location where it has provided medicine to patients every single day since. Shortly after securing the facility, the closet of the current location was converted into a smoking room so patients would have a dignified place to consume their medicine in the face of powerful cultural stigma and prohibition of cannabis consumption in public spaces.
Within a year of operating in the back of a bookstore, police raided the club four times in a single year beginning in January 2002 and ending in February 2003. Not only did the VCBC reopen immediately after all four raids on its store but the club beat every single one of the fifteen charges laid against staff with constitutional arguments as to why the charges were unjust.
With a dedicated staff and strong support from the community, the VCBC has survived more raids than any club in the country.
Meanwhile, after judges began acknowledging the laws prohibiting the herb were a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the federal government was forced to create a medical cannabis program in 2001. The Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR) were the first medical marijuana regulations that allowed patients to grow for themselves, or to find a designated grower to produce for them, or to ideally purchase from a government approved Licensed Producer (LP).
To gain legal protection to consume cannabis medicine, patient were required to find a doctor willing to recommend the use of cannabis, a requirement that is exceptionally difficult for many low income patients unable to find a family physician at all. The barriers to access to the medical model was a great impetus for the club to continue to provide medicine to those that needed it where the government refused to.
In 2009, the bakery of the club was raided and Owen Smith was charged with possession of cannabis and possession of THC for the purposes of trafficking. Guided by the legal expertise of Kirk Tousaw, the club fought this case in three separate courts beginning in 2012 with the BC Provincial Court, then onto the BC Court of Appeal, and all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015. The VCBC was victorious at the BC Provincial Court and in 2012 the club’s founder, Ted Smith (no relation to Owen), turned the club into a non-profit society.
In 2015, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous ruling that declared cannabis extracts must be legally available for patients with a license from Health Canada. The Supreme Court decision fundamentally changed how cannabis medicine was perceived by Canadian doctors. This case was also used by the city of Vancouver to justify the need for dispensaries to exist when the municipality had to defend their licensing bylaws. Health Canada attempted to stop allowing patients to grow their own medicine and force them to purchase all of their medical cannabis products from large Licenced Producers in 2014. Therefore Health Canada developed the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) which resulted in a sudden burst of corporate activity that changed the industry dramatically.
Within a few years, the Licensed Producers grew into multi-billion dollar companies that established themselves as the experts in medical cannabis through heavy lobby efforts, and hiring former police officers and other ‘retired’ government officials.
These LPs were given the authority by Health Canada to be the only legal producers of cannabis medicine for patients. Today, it is evident that these corporations had their sights set on the future lucrative recreational market and have little concern for the needs of medical patients.
Ironically it was the legalization of cannabis across the United States in States such as Colorado, California and Washington that finally prompted the Canadian federal Liberals to justify ending prohibition in Canada. The discourse presented by Canadian government was not to provide good quality medicine to those in need, but instead sought to constantly repeat the claim that the government’s responsibility must in the cannabis industry must be to take profit away from organized crime and to protect children. In 2015 the Liberals swept to power in Ottawa with a mandate to legalize cannabis. Instead of engaging in a lengthy process with the long term stakeholders of the industry to educate the public and take a serious look at all of the issues, the federal government conducted little, very superficial public consultation before rushing into implementation.
Over the 23 years the club has been in existence, the Victoria Cannabis Buyer Club has witnessed dramatic and sweeping changes to the medical cannabis scene, while undergoing several internal transitions that threatened the stability of the club.
The VCBC has developed a collective wealth of experience and deep roots in the industry that must not be lost to history as legalization sweeps across Canada. We have established a high quality medical cannabis product line over two decades and a community of patients bound together by a passionate staff.
We have existed because of the tireless efforts of many different caring people and today we would like to recognize that. We are truly grateful.