The BC Compassion Club Society

Rielle Capler in the amazing world class apothecary at BCCCS.Rielle Capler in the amazing world class apothecary at BCCCS.The British Columbia Compassion Club Society (BCCCS) opened its doors in 1997 to help people suffering from various illnesses gain access to clean, affordable, highquality cannabis in a safe and supportive environment. Since its humble beginnings the Vancouver-based non-profit society has grown into a natural health care centre that serves almost 3500 members. As Canada’s first compassion club, the BCCCS has been a model for other compassion clubs across the country that together serve an estimated 10,000 people.
Our Members ? Honoring Diversity

BCCCS members represent a broad spectrum of Canadian society. Due to the effectiveness of cannabis at relieving a wide array of symptoms, almost every illness is represented in the BCCCS membership. The largest illness group is HIV/AIDS, and other major illnesses groups include Cancer, Hepatitis C, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Glaucoma, and Chronic Pain, to name of few. Many members have mental health conditions either as their primary condition for which they are using cannabis, or secondary to another condition.

Members use cannabis to relieve their debilitating nausea, the lack of appetite, wasting, pain that keeps them up all night, muscle tension that limits their mobility, and to improve their overall sense of well-being. For example, depression is at times part of living with a serious illness, and cannabis can be very effective for these mental health conditions. BCCCS members can also see counselors at our Wellness Centre on an ongoing or emergency basis. The BCCCS staff follow-up on members with mental health conditions to make sure they are having their needs met, and that the use of cannabis is benefiting them.

The BCCCS brings together people who are as diverse as their illnesses. The age of members ranges from about 18 to 90, with most in their 40’s and 50’s. Those under 18 must have written consent of their parent or legal guardian. Members come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds; however, many live on limited incomes. Experience with cannabis varies from those who have known of its benefits for decades ? medically or recreationally ? to those who have never used it before.

Medicines & theraputic herbsMedicines & theraputic herbsMembership Requirements ? Joining

In order to become a member of the BCCCS, applicants must submit a confirmation of diagnosis and, depending on the condition, a recommendation for the use of cannabis, from a physician, naturopath, or Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine. These must be faxed in from the health care practitioner’s office, and are then verified by phone.

The BCCCS will also accept MMAR authorizations and licenses for membership. Many of the about 800 license holders have chosen compassion clubs as their supplier of medicine. At one time, Health Canada was actually referring people to the BCCCS. In recognition of the fact that many health care practitioners are currently reluctant to recommend the use of cannabis, the BCCCS has endeavored to make our forms as undaunting as possible. The practitioner must confirm their patient’s diagnosis, but may indicate the reasons they do not recommend the use of cannabis.

We will work with potential members to meet our requirement for proper documentation. In cases where a health care practitioner refuses to fill out the forms, the BCCCS provides Release of Information forms to assist the applicant. Legally, a physician cannot refuse to release their records upon request, though some do nonetheless. There are some compassionate doctors out there, and we encourage people to keep trying.

As a result of the demand for the club’s services, the current waitlist for an intake appointment is about a month. If the applicant is in the terminal or critical stage of their illness, their membership can be processed within a week or two.

Cannabis buds, cookies, tinctures, baked goods and oils ready for dispensing.Cannabis buds, cookies, tinctures, baked goods and oils ready for dispensing.Visitors ? An Open Door

With the necessary documentation and verification, visitors who are members of other Canadian compassion clubs, MMAR license holders, or holders of USA state licenses may visit the BCCCS up to 4 times a year. Visitors are required to sign a document acknowledging some basic rights and responsibilities, including consenting to non-redistribution, and for those from the USA, that the medicine they purchase from us is meant for their use while in Canada. After 4 visits, visitors must become a member of the BCCCS if they would like to continue using the services.

Intake and Education ? A Lesson in Healing

Each new member participates in an hour-and-a-half long intake session. During this session, we collect detailed information regarding conditions, symptoms, use of other medications, previous experiences with cannabis, and other relevant information about health and well-being. This information assists us in providing the highest quality of service possible.

New members also receive an orientation to the club and our services. Their rights and responsibilities within the organization are reviewed in order to promote a safe, friendly and secure environment, respect of our neighborhood, and smooth daily operations.

Members must sign a consent form in which they take responsibility for their decision to use cannabis, and agree not to redistribute the cannabis procured by us for their own personal use.

There is also an educational component of the intake session focused on safe and effective use. It is important that people using cannabis as a medicine are equipped with all the information they need, including an introduction to the plant and cannabinoids, strain selection, methods of ingestion, safe smoking techniques, dosage, potency, tolerance and dependence, side effects, quality, drug interactions, the current laws and political climate, and the legal risks involved in ? and the legal route for ? using cannabis as a medicine.

Cannabis varietiesCannabis varietiesCannabis ? A Reprieve From Suffering

Members of the BCCCS are able to access a wide variety of cannabis products. At least seven strains of high quality cannabis and hash are offered daily. There are always organic choices on the menu, and whatever is not organic has been well flushed and inspected and/or lab tested for microbiology. In addition to smokeables, the daily menu offers infused olive oil and butter, alcohol and glycerin tinctures, and a variety of baked goods ? including wheat-free and sugar-free options.

Prices are always kept as low as possible so they are affordable to those living on low incomes. Typically, grams are between $7-$9, and there is a $3-per-gram offer twice a week. Donations of cannabis given to the BCCCS by compassionate cultivators are passed on to members at no charge.

To get a contract with the BCCCS, cultivators must provide topquality cannabis at below-market prices. These courageous souls are interviewed by our supply committee, and must also agree to yearly inspections so we can ensure our cultivation standards are being met.

Members can purchase glass pipes and bubblers, hemp and rice rolling papers, vaporizers, grinders, and other implements needed for using cannabis. These are all offered to BCCCS members at a discounted rate passed on to us from local compassionate suppliers.

Cannabis varietiesCannabis varietiesThe Wellness Centre ? A Step Towards Vitality

The Wellness Centre is the other half of the BCCCS. We view cannabis as just one of many medicinal herbs that is particularly effective for symptom relief. Many members come to us because they prefer to use natural health care services, or would like to use them as a compliment to allopathic medicine. Typically these services would not be accessible since they are not covered under provincial health care insurance plans.

At the Wellness Centre, members can access the services of herbalists, nutritionists, counselors, doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as acupressure, acupuncture, and reiki practitioners. There is also a restorative yoga program held off-site. These services are provided to members on a sliding scale of $5-$30 per visit, although no one is ever turned away for lack of funds. Our members receive vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal teas and formulas that are produced from organic and wild-crafted herbs in our world-class “apothecary” at a reduced cost.

Daily menu boardDaily menu boardOur Community ? Coming Home

The BCCCS promotes a holistic approach to healing and living. We see community an integral part of that approach. In the ‘Smoke-Room’ BCCCS members can sample different strains, socialize, and take part in workshops facilitated by other members or volunteers from the community. For some socializing outside the Club, we also host a summer picnic and winter party.

As an organization, the BCCCS has developed strong relationships with the larger community of health care organizations, educational institutions and local businesses. We give presentations to university and college classes, to pain clinics and hospice centers, and to downtown eastside drop-in centers. Last year we presented at Beyond Prohibition, the BC Civil Liberties Association conference on cannabis. This year we worked with the BC Persons with AIDS Society to put on a community forum about medical cannabis. For the last two years, the University of Victoria has asked the BCCCS to host nursing students for the community component of their degrees.

The Future ? Beyond Prohibition

As a natural health care centre and an activist organization that is also operating “outside” the legal structure, our work is cut out for us. We struggle constantly with keeping the cost of our medicine and health care services low, while continuing to run a model of what medical cannabis dispensaries could look like beyond prohibition. Unfortunately, funding which the government would otherwise provide is not applicable to our organization.

We are thankful for the support of our cultivators who helped get us off the ground. Every little bit helps us sustain our efforts to provide compassion and justice to all.Daily menu board