Victoria cannabis club saved from eviction, signs new 3-year lease

On the eve of its 20th anniversary in the same location, a last-minute reprieve has saved the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club from eviction. But the fight to survive is far from over, according to the club.

“Initially, it was shock and disbelief” says founder Ted Smith after hearing the news of the reprieve.

“It’s been very stressful thinking of what would happen if we had to lose this location," Smith says. "So now we’re happy to be able to stay here but we also know that there can and still will likely be a fight ahead.”

Smith says the club's lawyers have come to an agreement with the property owners that would see a new three-year lease signed for their current location at 826 Johnson St.

“We have some reasonable arguments to stand on,” says Smith.

In early February, the province’s Community Safety Unit (CSU), which is responsible for enforcing cannabis regulations, sent a letter to the club’s landlord, Skipper Properties Ltd, warning of steep fines and possible jail time if they renewed the club's lease for the beginning of April.

As part of the deal, the buyers club would be responsible for any fines and legal action the landlord may face due to the lease renewal.

“Under the agreement, that if this solicitor general proceeds with some punitive measures, we will fight that in court," Smith says. "You know, unless the cabinet gives us an exemption, we're likely going to get a fine and an end up fighting that in court."

Smith expects a backlash from the province.

“I am very wary of an immediate negative reaction from the CSU – that raids are one of the easy tools they have in the toolbox to hurt us and that they may decide that the next route would be to raid us consecutively in ways that would seriously disrupt our services,” says Smith.

The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club has written Health Canada requesting an exemption from the Cannabis Act to allow the non-profit to continue providing its high-dose, low-cost ¬products without the threat of punitive action.

The club is hoping for a spirit of cooperation with the government moving forward.

“We're hoping that we can get an exemption to do research with the ministry of mental health and addictions to study why cannabis is being used so much by people with addictions and suffering from mental health problems, and get them to support the work that we do." Smith says.

Smith says that given the opioid crisis that's killing people at record rates, he thinks the province needs to step up to the plate and recognize that cannabis is a valid harm-reduction tool, and that his club is doing an excellent job helping people use less opioid drugs.

Reflecting on the club's 20-year history at 826 Johnson St., Smith says he is extremely proud of what they have been able to do as a collective.

“We have seen dramatic changes, not only here in Victoria, but around the world, as a result of the work we've done," he says. "We've not only educated people about the wide variety of products that can be made out of cannabis and taught them how to make them, but we've gone to the Supreme Court of Canada and changed the laws to allow for these alternative products to be used by patients. That has opened up the door for legalization, not only here in Canada but in many other countries around the world that follow us as being leaders in this industry.”

The club founder says he hopes to be able to continue to serve customers for many years to come.

“Ultimately, that is what we're here for and we look forward to the day that we can focus entirely on that again.”