Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club hit with $6.5 million in fines

| David Brown

The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, along with its founder Ted Smith, have been issued fines totalling $6.5 million by the BC government for selling cannabis without a licence. 

The fines were issued by the BC Community Safety Unit (CSU), the provincial agency charged with monitoring and enforcing the province’s retail cannabis rules and regulations. 

According to the Times Colonist, the fines were delivered in a letter from the CSU in January. The fines are based on the total value from raids of the store in November 2019 and July 2020. 

CSU issues compliance orders to unlicensed cannabis retailers that impose a monetary penalty in an amount equal to two times the retail value of the cannabis that the person sold, possessed for the purpose of sale, or produced in contravention of the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act.

Last year, the province listed four companies they had levied such penalties against – a Kamloops dispensary that operated under the names Da Kine Weed Glass and Gift’ Weeds Glass and Gifts, Weeds, and Boomer’s Bud ($65,716.24); a Squamish dispensary called 99 North Enterprises ($444,027.49); and two Victoria dispensaries, one called Ocean Grown Medicinal Society ($12,042.00) and the other Trees of Eden Island Grown ($771,557.50).

Last November, a more recent compliance order was posted for $36,952.66, based on seized product worth $18,476.33.

Ted Smith, the owner of the VCBC, says he hopes to fight the fines in court, arguing the legal medical and non-medical cannabis systems in Canada do not properly serve his clientele and other medical cannabis users. 

“I wanted to have a good idea of how we are proceeding to fight it because clearly we’re not going to pay something like that,” Smith told the Times Colonist. “Typically, when we’ve been raided in the past, we’ve been given the opportunity to fight in court. It was frustrating being raided and not having legal recourse to argue our charter rights, so this is actually going to open the door to those arguments.”

The Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club is one of the oldest and longest continually-operating cannabis dispensaries/compassion clubs in all of Canada, started in 1996 by owner Ted Smith. While many medical cannabis dispensaries prior to legalization said they sought to fight for medical cannabis access, the VCBC is one of the few who have stuck to their guns on the issue of fighting for access. The club was also at the core of a court case many years ago that made non-flower products like “edibles” and ingestible oils legal for medical use.

The club thought they had found an ally in local and provincial governments in 2020 when the Victoria City Council and then the provincial government signalled superficial support for the club. The province at the time stated the issue was one relating to federal laws, not provincial.

“The Province has also urged the VCBC to contact Health Canada about licensing and informed them they may want to share their views about enabling medical users to access cannabis through a storefront,” said Minister Farnworth at the time.

In a recent post online, the club said they were working on an “exemption application to Health Canada”.