After 20 years in operation, the Vancouver Island Compassion Society (VICS) has closed its doors.
The not-for-profit establishment worked to connect people with doctor’s notes to cannabis supplies and knowledge. In two decades, it won two court cases to stay operational.
“We were very strict, and that’s what enabled us to keep our doors open,” said Robin Krause who worked at VICS for 17 years. “We had the ability to sit down and talk with our members, and that made a difference… we offered a compassionate environment.”
Krause said that the 3,000 members averaged in age to be around 50 years old, though some are in their 80s. They suffered from chronic illnesses, pain and anxiety and used different forms of cannabis to combat these issues.
“Who would have known that cannabis can allow people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to leave their home, not locked to the toilet?” Krause said. “Or that folks suffering chronic pain can reduce, and sometimes eliminate, their use of opioids? Or how cannabis can calm and mitigate tremors and seizure-related incidents?”
However, after cannabis legalization compassion clubs have been under pressure to shut down, with the possibility of the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCBR) giving heavy fines, or seizing possession of property. While this hasn’t been recorded yet, the fear of the possibility prompted members to vote to shut the doors for now, and perhaps apply for a retail license in the future.
The problem now, Krause explained, is that the legal dispensaries available don’t line up with what VICS members have become used to.
“It’s not like a community with the layouts. They’re glorified jewelry stores, very glitzy, very hip. It’s a retail market– it’s not a community health service,” he said. “People say the quality of the product is not up to par, and that the prices are too high, so for those reasons some people will not go there.”
VICS officially closed its doors on July 7. There was no party and no official send off.
“It was just a very quiet closure, no big deal,” Krause said. “It was a sad, cathartic day.”
Other compassion clubs, including Victoria’s Cannabis Buyer’s Club (VCCB) have chosen to stay open. VCCB Founder Ted Smith noted that their organization is usually more vocal as cannabis advocates, but that both establishments served a shared population.
“I know a lot of people there personally, and it’s hard to see all that effort now being put up in the air,” Smith said.
He added that the VCCB has no intentions of shutting down.
“We’d be cutting our own throats here, so many people rely on that medicine,” Smith said. “We’ve been raided before, we can do it again.”
So far, the VCCB has not seen a significant increase in its 7,000 members since VICS shut down.
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