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    Ahead of their time: Hilary Black

    Ahead of their time: Hilary Black

    Founder of Canada's first compassion club, the VCCCS (Vancouver Compassionate Cannabis Club Society)

    This article was originally published in Heads Magazine May 2002

     

    Heads: What is the VCCCS?

    HB: The Compassion Club is a registered non-profit society; we have been distributing cannabis for medical use for four years. We began as a one-woman dream, equipped with a paper and a backpack full of borrowed cannabis, eagerly breaking the laws prohibiting cannabis each day. Now we have created a zone where prohibition does not exist in order to allow medicinal cannabis users to access cannabis without the fear and stigma of prohibition. We have matured into a consensus-based organization that employs 28 staff, and serves a membership of 1,600 people. The members have a huge range of conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, chronic pain, seizure disorders, glaucoma, hepatitis C, anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating disorders and many others.

     

    We began as a one-woman dream, equipped with a paper and a backpack full of borrowed cannabis, eagerly breaking the laws prohibiting cannabis each day.

     

    Heads: Other than supplying marijuana, what does the club offer?

    HB: Both the registered members of our organization and the members of the local community benefit from access to low-cost alternative healthcare through our Wellness Centre. Available to them are clinical herbalists, clinical counsellors, a nutritional counsellor, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, a Reiki practitioner, an acupressure massage therapist, and a yoga program. These services are subsidized by the sale of the cannabis and, as a result, users can access them on a sliding scale. Those who have more, pay more; those who have less, pay less.

    We operate with a consensus decision-making model in all levels of the Society to ensure that all voices have equal influence and our decisions are as high quality as possible. We have a flat pay scale, therefore all employees regardless of their position, are paid an equal wage. Our members are involved beyond accessing the services available, as we have monthly meetings to discuss and make decisions on current issues. Our members are stakeholders in the consensus process regarding our political positions, policies they are directly affected by, and other important decisions.

     

    The members have a huge range of conditions, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, chronic pain, seizure disorders, glaucoma, hepatitis C, anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating disorders and many others.

     

    Heads: What are some of the challenges you have faced?

    HB: There have been many challenges along the way; thieves, by-law inspectors, unfriendly landlords, grumpy neighbours, greedy growers and poverty stricken members, to name a few. However, it is the victories and the miracles that truly stand out. The cop who guarded a safe full of our cash and cannabis when thieves tried to rip it off. The judge who first recognized that we provide an essential service. And, most recently, the senator who told us we are “untouchable.” The miracles are happening every day.

     

    There have been many challenges along the way; thieves, by-law inspectors, unfriendly landlords, grumpy neighbours, greedy growers and poverty stricken members, to name a few.

     

    Heads: Can you tell us about some of your members?

    HB: Gregg Cooper is a young man who was diagnosed with rapid-onset multiple sclerosis only four years ago. Today, he cannot bathe himself, dress himself or feed himself without cannabis to ease his muscle tremors and pain.

    Vicky Nicholson has multiple sclerosis fibromyalgia, a serious joint and muscle disorder, and is restricted to a wheelchair. Instead of living a life debilitated by these conditions, Vicky is a national marathon athlete, winning medals each time she races, and she attributes her amazing physical success to cannabis.

     

    Instead of living a life debilitated by these conditions, Vicky is a national marathon athlete, winning medals each time she races, and she attributes her amazing physical success to cannabis.

     

    Michelle David is in her sixties, suffering from serious arthritis among other conditions, and she is able to resist the pressure to move into a nursing home, resist the pressure to use morphine, and lives an independent, drug-free life through her use of cannabis.

    Many of our members cannot walk, eat, sleep or work without cannabis. With access to cannabis and alternative healthcare and support from the community at the Compassion Club, we have assisted people addicted to heroin, cocaine, crack, methadone, morphine, codeine and alcohol to overcome their addictions.

     

    This new industry will become either a government- or corporately-controlled monopoly, or it will become a sustainable, efficient, and fair cottage industry.

     

    Heads: How do you feel about Canada’s recent moves to legalize medical marijuana?

    HB: As medicinal cannabis becomes a new legal industry in Canada, new challenges face the Compassion Club and the greater cannabis community. This new industry will become either a government- or corporately-controlled monopoly, or it will become a sustainable, efficient, and fair cottage industry. As it stands now, Plant Prairie Systems is positioned as the sole legal producer of medicinal cannabis in Canada. Economically and ethically, this monopoly is unacceptable. 

    The highly charged political environment caused by prohibition has created a situation where the political agenda has been prioritized over the real healthcare concerns. Prohibition has muddied the waters for those creating the regulations for access to medical cannabis, and the regulations pander to prohibition, rather than creating an effective, rational program. The regulations as they presently exist are far more extensive, invasive, difficult to administer and enforce than regulations for any other prescription drug or natural medicine. 

    The bodies that govern the medical community, such as the Canadian Medical Association, have rejected the new regulations so extremely that doctors are being threatened with insurance revocation if they recommend cannabis to their patients. The doctors are afraid and those in desperate need wait in the horrible Catch-22.

     

    Within the cannabis community are the resources necessary to create an alternative structure to the one the government and corporations would have us caged in, the one we are collectively going to continue to tear down until it is destroyed.

     

    Heads: How do you propose we solve this problem?

    HB: We, the cannabis community, will solve this insane situation. Community-based cannabis distribution centres run by caring, responsible, and informed folks will continue to be the most effective model for the distribution of medicinal cannabis. Within the cannabis community are the resources necessary to create an alternative structure to the one the government and corporations would have us caged in, the one we are collectively going to continue to tear down until it is destroyed.

    I believe it is possible to have successful, community-based cannabis distribution centres meeting the needs of all Canadians who need access to this forbidden medicine. I believe it is within our power and I believe it is our duty.

     

    Read Black Ops - Heads Lifestyles' exclusive May 2019 interview with C-suite cannabis activist Hilary Black here