When the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations [MMAR] ended, many patients were left heavily indebted to Health Canada and the original licensed producers of cannabis.
Not only did some patients owe money, many patient-growers started breaking the law by sharing their cannabis and opening compassion clubs. Seeing a problem with this approach, plus federal and municipal jurisdiction issues over MMAR home-gardens (some farmers didn’t mask the smell successfully or had busy-body neighbours with the mentality of a character from 1984), the Harper government took action to correct the failed Liberal MMAR program.

But the Harper regime made things worse by trying to legislate independent cannabis gardens out of existence and replace them with commercial growers. Additionally, these commercial growers weren’t the farmers of the old regime but a class of capitalist investors without any practical knowledge of how to grow cannabis.

If growers wanted to continue growing, they needed to either raise the capital and make it past the bureaucratic requirements where politically-connected investors seem to have an advantage to become a licensed producer, team up with an investor to become a licensed producer (same issues as above) or join a licensed producer as a labourer.

Before Harper’s government began the process of creating the new cannabis regime, it offered a public forum where stakeholders could voice their opinions. Patients said they didn’t want to lose their gardens and dispensaries and compassion clubs wanted to be involved in the new model. Both requests were ignored. Since then, the Harper government has repeatedly called these small-businesses illegal and demand that local police shut down independent cannabis operations (a request which local police have fortunately ignored for the time being).

There are at least 15 cannabis providers with MMAR licenses supplying dispensaries and compassion clubs in Vancouver. That’s how the whole thing started. Patients who were unable to grow themselves, and were fed up with the delays of Health Canada, cooperated in creating a compassion club. That was in the 90s, and since then more have sprouted up. Once it became apparent the Vancouver Police Department wasn’t going to raid dispensaries, more people took advantage of the retail business. In 2015, with over 100 dispensaries in the city, regulation bylaws were written but not a word was said about supply. As Vancouver Councillor Kerry Jang confirmed with CinC, “that’s something we’re leaving to the police.”

Yet, the bylaw defines compassion clubs as distinct entities from dispensaries. The former are non-profit, and even though they’re technically illegal, compassion clubs can still be supplied by MMAR patient-growers. That is until a new government starts creating new rules. But, assuming the Conservatives win again or the next government isn’t too different from Conservatives except for public relations, the idea that patient-growers can continue to buy and sell without some kind of government regulation seems unlikely. Especially since the city of Vancouver has combined the authority of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD) into the definition of a compassion club. If CAMCD decide to strike a deal with LPs, that could be the end of this unique experiment with BC’s nonviolent, non-gang related independent cannabis farmers.