The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club Society is seeking a temporary injunction to prevent further raids by the Community Safety Unit, an agency of the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General that focuses on the illegal production and sale of cannabis.
The society is also launching a constitutional challenge against the province for raiding the club and fining it $6.5 million. The society argues that federal medical marijuana laws that limit THC to 10 milligrams have made it impossible for the chronically ill to get the doses they need for pain.
“We need to be able to service the people who need these products,” lawyer Kirk Tousaw said Tuesday outside the Victoria courthouse. “And there’s no good reason they should be prevented from doing that. We hope cooler heads will prevail.
“We’re not willing to shut down and become a recreational cannabis store that sells products that are insufficient to meet the needs of these patients.”
Canada’s oldest “compassion club” has openly sold cannabis products since 1996. The club contravenes the current law, which does not allow for storefronts to sell medical products. It also sells edibles and topical products that contain more THC than the 10 mg allowed by Health Canada.
Club founder Ted Smith said the club has been raided three times and fined $6.5 million for selling marijuana illegally at its Johnson Street site.
“It’s very disappointing to have to be fighting at this stage because when legalization was brought into effect, everyone had the hope that it would be in the best interests of patients through the medical marijuana program,” said Smith. “Patients have been turned into dollar signs with legalization and it’s very unfair.”
In the midst of an opioid crisis, the government should be embracing cannabis for pain management and helping get people off opioids, said Smith, who said the club has been helping 8,600 patients with a wide range of cannabis products.
Tousaw said the Community Safety Unit, created by the government to crack down on unlawful recreational cannabis storefront and online sellers, is now being used to go after a medical cannabis dispensary that is embraced by the community and supported by the City of Victoria. He noted that the society has challenged the laws regarding access to medical cannabis and won at every level of court.
“All the justices agree that what Ted is doing here, what the club is doing here, helps people, and that the government’s attempts to prevent this are unconstitutional,” said Tousaw.
Many find ordering medicinal cannabis online inaccessible, said Tousaw.
“Not only do they require dosages significantly higher than those permitted by the federal government, they also have an incredibly difficult time buying from online sellers. Many are unhoused, living on social assistance. Many are disabled. They are the suffering citizens of this country and they are underserved by the federal’s government’s scheme,” he said.
Enforcement is also discretionary, he noted — the law does not require the province to target medical non-profit societies.
“Someone at the CSU made an operational decision to raid the society, not just once but three times. The society just wants to be left alone to be doing what it’s been doing in this community for almost three decades, serving the underserved, helping those who have no other place to go,” Tousaw said.
The ministry was unable to provide comment Tuesday.
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