The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club has taken what it hopes is a first step toward operating legally, filing an application to Health Canada for an exemption to federal cannabis regulations.
The 727-page application, containing letters of support from elected politicians, non-profit societies, doctors, club members, industry representatives and academics, has been more than a year in the making.
“Really this is historic … No other organization in Canada has so well documented the current status of the legal system and how it doesn’t work for patients,” said club founder Ted Smith.
Operating since 1996, the non-profit sells a range of products, including many homemade baked goods, salves, capsules and gummies, to more than 8,000 clients, whom Smith describes as mostly older people who are using cannabis to deal with health concerns such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, chronic pain and mental-health problems.
Unlike recreational dispensaries, the unlicensed club requires prospective members to provide proof of a chronic condition with a doctor’s signature.
When cannabis was legalized in 2018, the club didn’t try to join the legal system, saying it was too restrictive to meet the needs of its members. Health Canada guidelines say edibles should contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC per unit, but some club members ingest more than 1,000 mg a day to manage their conditions.
The club sells products at higher doses than what’s available through the legal system and at lower costs.
“The loss of our facility for many patients would be devastating,” Smith said.
He said he’s feeling relieved after filing the Health Canada exemption application, but still worries about provincial raids or other enforcement measures.
Health Canada regulates the sale of medical cannabis and prohibits storefront sales, while the province regulates non-medical cannabis sales.
Provincial officers have raided the club twice since 2019, seizing a total of about $60,000 in products. Last month, the club narrowly avoided eviction, after its landlord received a letter from the province warning of steep fines and potential jail time if the club’s lease was renewed.
The club has also applied to the province for an exemption from provincial regulations in hopes of avoiding another raid.
“We feel very vulnerable. We feel quite worried that the province is going to raid us or find some other means to come after the organization,” Smith said.
A spokesperson for Health Canada previously said the federal regulator may authorize an exemption from the Cannabis Act in “rare and exceptional circumstances” if the exemption is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose, or is otherwise in the public interest. Exemption applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis.