Legal herb should be a boon to patients. Instead, the federal Liberal government’s plans do little positive for patients while removing products from shelves of existing dispensaries.
The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club is a compassion club that has been in operation since January 1996. The club’s mandate has been to help people suffering from serious medical problems with a wide variety of topical and edible options.
The VCBC has been raided 5 times by the police, with all 15 trafficking charges that were laid being beaten in court, including the unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision of 2015 in the case of former head baker Owen Smith.
Now with over 6,500 members, our club has recently received rezoning from the city towards obtaining a business license. This process began before the federal government started its plans and everyone has hoped that what has started on the ground level in communities like Victoria will become a part of the future legal system. Despite the temptation of earning profit through sales to adults, our organization is content working strictly with patients through these changes.
Before we begin to sound totally negative, we want to encourage the government’s recent move to create a separate license for small cultivators and processors.
We have worked exclusively with small craft growers for decades and have maintained a kitchen to provide medicine to our patients. We hope that many of our growers and our kitchen will soon receive licenses to operate legally.
It is critical for legislation to legalize cannabis with an attempt to include all aspects of the current illegal industry, when possible.
Exclusion of current small scale operations will only serve to ensure a thriving “black market”.By refusing to allow individuals with a record of trafficking or large scale production the ability to obtain a license to cultivate or process cannabis, the government would be forcing many to remain illegally operating despite their wishes to do everything possible to comply with the new laws.
Instead of convincing those most committed to the herb to become legit, these regulations would force them to continue to break the law if they want to stay in the cannabis field.
For many reasons, requiring strict security measures is devastating in our club’s circumstances. This sweeping measure would exclude myself, the club’s founder, as I have been convicted of trafficking THC and cannabis after begin arrested at public giveaways. The irony of being automatically excluded from the legal scheme because I fought so hard for it is not lost on me.
There are many problems with the proposed limits on the types of products that will be initially allowed in this system, especially for patients who have been relying on many of these soon-to-be-prohibited-again products to maintain their health for years. Maybe the government needs to read the Smith decision from the Supreme Court of Canada again before considering any arbitrary laws restricting cannabis products.
By limiting the THC levels, Health Canada is forcing patients to consume much larger amounts of cannabis-infused vegetable oil than necessary to achieve the desired effect.
Given the intense opiate crisis affecting the country, it seems strange the government wants to restrict THC levels in cannabis products given how much safer the herb and its derivatives are. Patients struggling with cancer and other serious medical problems need affordable access to the strongest cannabis medicines possible.
Legalization should not force patients back to the black market.
Products like suppositories, lozenges or massage oils mixed with other herbs have been supplied by our club to patients for years with very few issues. These products should be granted extra time to complete all required studies while still being sold to patients. Ironically these proposals will encourage a prolific black market and have the reverse effect the government claims to be looking for.
Restricting the products available for sale would be life-threatening to some of our patients and an unhealthy inconvenience to many others.
It is counter-intuitive to limit THC content when there is a national opiate crisis due to doctors having few safe choices to prescribe for pain medication. At the same time, this new regime will have the effect of threatening doctors with having their license revoked for prescribing safe and effective doses of THC over the restrictive limits placed by Health Canada.
We are utterly dismayed at the complete disregard for patients in these proposed regulations. The meager changes proposed for the medical program provide no incentives for licensed distributors to provide special strains or products that only patients would require. By restricting the medical cannabis system to mail order, the government is making it extremely difficult for the sick, elderly and poor to access the right cannabis medicines.
With Licensed Producers itching to profit from recreational sales, there are no incentives for research into the medical benefits of cannabis included in these proposals.
It is not clear if patients will receive any tax breaks, either, making cancer patients pay the same as young adults.
It appears the only real benefit in legalization for patients is that they will no longer be automatically considered a criminal when found using cannabis in public.
Research and testing new drugs and new products is an important part of regulating health care products. However, in this case, we are talking about a drug that has been studied extensively and has been available illegally in compassion clubs for decades. It would be very unfair for those patients who have been safely using crafted cannabis products through dispensaries like ours to lose access to these medicines, potentially for years until all of the testing is completed.
We find the proposed act very detrimental to the VCBC’s members, as well as members of other established compassion clubs. We will continue to support, educate and supply patients who rely heavily on cannabis medicines until we become a part of the system or the government does a better job for patients and we go out of business.
Sadly, the proposed version of legalization appears more like Prohibition 2.0.
The new proposed act heavily supports big industry, even at the cost of destroying established communities of patients managing their health in a sustainable fashion. Absolutely no attempt is being made to ensure that these compassion clubs remain functioning and supported by the government.
The social cost of removing a system that clearly brings medical and emotional support to communities of people who have been, or easily could be, displaced, is unjustifiable. Any reasonable form of legalization would create special products and services for patients with lower taxes than recreational consumers pay.
We urge the federal and provincial governments to reconsider their approach to medical cannabis.
The gold standard for legalization should include providing patients with more options, lower taxes, free safe consumption sites and other benefits that recreational consumers do not require access to.
It is very disappointing to see how problematic this legalization scheme appears to be for patients that have relied on our services for years.
Written by Ted Smith and Clea MacLean.
Ted Smith is the founder and president of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club and Clea MacLean is a grower, patient and board member of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club.