Staff at the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club (VCBC) sighed with relief over the weekend, as a year passed since the unregulated dispensary was last raided by provincial officers, marking an end to the window the store could be penalized under provincial rules.
According to section 112 of British Columbia’s Cannabis Control and Licensing Act, the time limit to begin prosecution of an offence is one year, which means that for now the club can’t be charged for anything related to two raids that followed the regulations going into effect — once in November 2019 and again in July 2020.
VCBC founder and president Ted Smith says he lost a lot of sleep not knowing what was going to happen. But in the end he calls it a win for the club.
“Because I thought either that they were going to do something last minute or that they wouldn’t,” he says. “In which case, it’s even crazier to think that that we’re winning.”
“I was almost scared to go public because I don’t want to poke the bear.”
In April, the VCBC applied to federal regulator Health Canada for an exemption from the Cannabis Act so it could operate legally. But in the same month, the Community Safety Unit (CSU), B.C.’s cannabis enforcement squad, threatened the club’s landlord with fines up to $50,000 and jail time if the VCBC’s lease was renewed.
Even though the club is in the clear for now, its landlord Skipper Properties Ltd. is still at risk, according to the VCBC’s legal representation at JFK Law Corporation.
“It could simply be one of them coming into the store and looking around and seeing that we’re selling or just looking at our website,” explains Smith, adding that the CSU needs minimal evidence to prosecute, but it seems unlikely at this stage.
As the VCBC announced the good news Saturday on social media, it also said it had paid the full fee of around $120,000 to the legal team that helped the club file the exemption.
Finally some good news. We’ve paid @jfklaw for all the great work they did for us and it would seem that fines from the unjust raids committed against the club are not forthcoming pic.twitter.com/brikeFITL7
— Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club (@VCBCtweets) July 17, 2021
Political support for the VCBC continues
As the VCBC’s fight to exist has become more pronounced in recent years, the club has received support from a growing list of B.C. politicians.
Alistair MacGregor, NDP MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, sent a letter to Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth on Friday asking the province to grant a temporary exemption to the club under section 130 of the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act.
“Through correspondence with constituents and VCBC, I have learned that VCBC offers low-cost, high dosage cannabis products that are inaccessible under the current legal framework,” reads the letter.
“Given the current opioid crisis, I am gravely concerned that without immediate intervention by your government, VCBC clientele will be compelled to pursue other remediations to their medical needs.”
MacGregor also wrote to federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu on behalf of the club, bringing up regulatory issues that exlcude the VCBC from offering a non-profit and accessible space for medical cannabis users.
Green MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith Paul Manly has also shown support, penning his own letter to Hajdu last October.
Even Farnworth wrote to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps — whose council unanimously backed an exemption for the VCBC — saying he also supported exemptions that would allow the club to operate legally.
The club is collaborating with researchers at the University of Victoria to study the impact of compassion clubs on people with HIV and AIDS.