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Health Canada rejects Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club request for exemption

The club had asked Health Canada to exempt it from the Cannabis Act, which sets a 10-milligram THC limit per edible and prohibits storefront sales of medical cannabis
Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club’s Ted Smith with lawyer Kirk Tousaw before filing a constitutional challenge against the province at the Victoria Courthouse early in May. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Health Canada has rejected a request from the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club to exempt it from federal cannabis regulations that prohibit the club from operating legally.

The club had asked Health Canada to exempt it from the Cannabis Act, which sets a 10-milligram THC limit per edible and prohibits storefront sales of medical cannabis.

In a letter to the club this week, Health Canada said it had not demonstrated that the proposed exemptions are necessary for a medical purpose or are in the public interest.

Club founder Ted Smith said he wasn’t surprised by the decision. “It is something that we expected, although we had hoped for better from our government,” he said.

The club submitted an application hundred of pages long to Health Canada in 2021, along with multiple letters of support from the City of Victoria, letters from drug policy experts and over 300 patient testimonials.

It argued an exemption is necessary to meet the medical needs of the club’s members, saying the federal licensing regulations have created a system that is only accessible to medical patients with doctors willing to write cannabis prescriptions, who can wait for items to be mailed to them and who can treat their conditions with a limited selection of products.

Operating since 1996, the compassion club sells a range of products, including many homemade baked goods, salves, capsules and gummies, to more than 8,000 clients, whom Smith has described as mostly older people who are using cannabis to deal with health concerns such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, chronic pain and mental-health problems.

Health Canada said in its letter the club provided insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the THC in edibles is insufficient, writing that multiple units of the same cannabis product can be consumed to achieve a desired effect.

Some club members consume more than 1,000 milligrams of THC daily, making it a challenge to consume the desired amount when each edible is limited to 10 milligrams, Smith said.

“Health Canada needs to make some substantive changes to their program to help people understand how to use cannabis as medicine and not treat it like a dangerous drug,” he said.

The club was raided by provincial authorities in March and cleared of virtually its entire stock worth between $80,000 to $100,000.

Smith said they’re now struggling to keep products stocked, as cash flow is limited.

“But people are very happy that we’re still here,” he said.

The club has also filed a lawsuit and injunction against the provincial government and Health Canada to seek relief from the punitive measures taken by the B.C. Community Safety Unit. A date for the hearing has not yet been set.

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