After more than two decades in the same location, the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club (VCBC) is facing a sudden eviction; last October, the previous landlord sold the building and the new one wants them out by today. Given only 19 days to vacate the premises, they are supposed to be out by January 2, 2023. Due to the short notice for the relocation, the VCBC is defying the eviction. These are the details surrounding the latest struggle faced by Canada’s oldest medicinal dispensary, the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club.
The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club?
The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club is a non-profit organization that provides access to medical cannabis. Focused on justice and human rights, they operate in alignment with the Canadian Constitution. Sadly, it’s not so simple when it comes to the current Cannabis Act. To integrate into the legal system, the VCBC applied for an exemption 56.
826 Johnson Street
The building at 826 Johnson Street has multiple floors filled with rentable storage units and at the bottom, you will find the VCBC. In October 2022, the building was purchased by Bluebird Core Associates, a self-storage company with multiple franchises.
When the building was sold, the VCBC knew that relocation was likely inevitable. Informed of the plans to renovate the building, Ted Smith, the Founder, and President of the Board of Directors met with Bluebird. He explained what the VCBC does and clarified the details of their legal situation. Presenting letters of support from the Mayor and City Council seemed to go over well. Ted was assured that the club would have the time needed to find a new space and relocate. While Bluebird is renovating the building’s storage setup, the VCBC’s space won’t be touched for some time.
This was a huge relief considering that the club has limited rental options. After all, cannabis businesses have specific zoning requirements, plus a medical dispensary must be accessible. If the location was not fully wheelchair friendly, it could never work and adding upgrades takes time.
Protected by the previous landlord
When it came to the previous landlord, there was an enormous amount of mutual respect. In February 2021, the Provincial Community Safety Unit tried to have the VCBC evicted. In addition, the organization was fined $6.5 million dollars. The CSU threatened legal action against the building’s landlord, trying to forcibly kick the club out. Thankfully, the landlord stood their ground and worked with the club to find a solution. The VCBC had JFK Law Corporation file a court injunction; suspending the threat against their landlord until their exemption application was processed.
Stop supplying the sick and GTFO
On December 14, 2022, lawyers for Bluebird Core Associates served the VCBC with a sudden and unexpected eviction notice. Citing that the club is existing illegally, the new landlord terminated the current lease agreement. On top of that, they called for an immediate cease of operations, despite the harm it would cause to the club’s membership. Specifically, the eviction notice states:
“The letter provides notice that the VCBC is selling cannabis without a license in breach of the CCLA. Allowing the premises to be used for the sale of cannabis constitutes an offense by the landlord. Consumption of cannabis at the property is contrary to Victoria bylaw number 16-061, which sets out that no cannabis can be consumed on premises where a cannabis/related business is conducted. Permitting the smoking of cannabis at the premises, which also constitutes a workplace, constitutes a violation of s.64 of the CCLA.”
It seems odd that the landlord would use these particular arguments to terminate the lease as they are not applicable to the VCBC. For a recreational provincial store, they absolutely apply. When it’s a medical non-profit organization with a safe inhalation site, it’s a bit different; especially when they have applied for a federal exemption 56.
For the club, this notice is unnecessary, unreasonable, and frankly, impossible. While they do not want to have an adversarial relationship, VCBC cannot and did not comply with the terms set out in the eviction notice. Legally, there is no reason for the new landlord to take such a harsh approach. Furthermore, the organization does not agree that there are grounds to terminate its lease. In an official statement posted to the Cannabis Digest, The organization has stressed this point.
“The VCBC has not been found in violation of any statutes of law and there are clauses in the lease protecting the landlord from penalties that may result from the actions of the organization, along with other commercial law arguments that should stop the landlord from immediately evicting the club.”
Image courtesy of the Cannabis Digest – Ted Smith (left), Kirk Tousaw (Center), Owen Smith (right)
On December 21, 2022, VCBC’s Lawyer Kirk Tousaw officially responded to the notice with a letter. Detailing the organization’s legal standing and its constitutional right to operate, the letter asserts that the lease is valid. It explains VCBC’s plans to relocate and lists March 31, 2023, as the possible date. Will it be enough to stop further action from the new landlord? Hopefully, but only time will tell.
The VCBC was supposed to move out by today but it’s business as usual. For a storage unit rental company with multiple locations across Canada, it’s inconsequential; an unrelated bureaucratic matter that doesn’t affect or concern the company. For the medical patients that depend on the VCBC, it’s everything. It means that they can get their medicine for another day and for some, it’s a matter of life and death.
#Feature image courtesy of The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club
#The information provided in this article was sourced from VCBC Founder and President of the Board, Ted Smith, VCBC’s official social media channels, and press releases published on the Cannabis Digest.