How To Open A Compassion Club
by Matt Mernaugh
(02 Nov, 2005)
Your Definitive Guide To Setting Up Shop
At its simplest, a compassion club can be started with an ounce of medicine, a pager, a backpack, and a skateboard. With excellent foresight, this basic setup can evolve into a storefront cannabis clinic.
The minimal startup costs -- combined with eighty per cent support amongst the public -- would allow anyone with knowledge, kindness, and bud to open a club. Four out of five clubs close within the first year, however, from the founder's lack of understanding of the time, commiotment and struggle involved. Toronto Compassion Centre co-founder Dom Cramer describes the experience as "devotional."
Successful compassion club operators possess a civic-minded budinessperson's approach to running their organization. Well thought-out cannabis projects involve writing down in detail how goals should be accomplished. There is no set approach to operating a compassion club, but this list of areas that need to be addressed should help you begin generating a business plan. I have written this with Canadian law and circumstances in mind, but distribution of medical marijuana is currently illegal in both USA and Canada. The set-up steps in this article are relevant to both the USA and Canada, please adapt your understanding of your local community and its law enforcement to this template.
1. Suggested Reading and Viewing
A Road Map to Compassion
By Philippe Lucas, Hilary Black, Rielle Capler
www.bccla.org/prohibition/Roadmap to Compassion_HB_RC.pdf
"The courts have acknowledged that compassion societies have been filling in the holes left by Health Canada's inadequate program. Many government bodies, including the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, the Ontario Court of Appeal and BC Provincial Court have also recognized the role of the compassion societies in a viable national program."
The BC Marijuana Party Compassionate Use Conference Part 1
Experiences and ideas from people operating clubs in 2001. Problems with government still exist today. Very relevant if opening in a community that can be categorized as "behind the times."
The BC Marijuana Party Compassionate Use Conference Part 2
Business Development Bank of Canada
Take their self-employment assessment to see if you have the skills to operate your own business.
Medicinal marijuana, according to the feds, is taxable. Recreational too. Register for GST (Goods and Services Tax in Canada).
Having your own Compassion Club means making cool labels
2. Develop a Mission Statement
A mission statement provides an immediate frame of reference. Consider this the bold statement on a web site or the first words out of your mouth when someone asks about your project.
It can contain info on income, med marijuana, who and where the clients are, and how the organization fulfills its goals. Example: "The compassion society is a Not-For-Profit [income] medicinal marijuana clinic [what it is] that assists the city's [where] terminally and chronically ill [clients] with a clean affordable supply of medicine, while advocating on behalf of members regarding the medical benefits of cannabis [what it is doing]."
3. Fine Tuning the Club's Paperwork
No need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to paperwork. Philippe Lucas of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society has a whole kit that a would-be compassion club operator can tailor to their clinic. Email him at email@example.com and ask for your bundle.
Many clubs make their member application forms available on their site. Review some, and then ask a director's permission to use their application as the basis for yours. Give your documents the professional edge with a letterhead for applications and correspondence.
A basic package is comprised of a cover letter, a Letter of Diagnosis to be filled out and signed by a doctor, and two copies of a patient medical waiver signed by the patient.
In less than 300 words the cover letter explains the application process, a little bit about medicinal marijuana, and of course, describes the clinic. The opening paragraph can be the mission statement. Paragraph two should have the instructions on applying. It should be clear that the club will confirm the validity of the application by talking to the doctor's office.
Include two copies of the medical waiver: a doctor copy and a clinic copy. The applicant signs both, which permits the physician to speak to you.
4. Sign Up Members
My application for Ontario disability benefits was a small folded document. In contrast, the (Canadian government's) Medical Marijuana Access Regulation was 40-plus pages.
An application to a compassion club these days is about eight pages. Having an applicant bring both the MMAR and the compassion club forms to their physician is an easy method for the doctor to fill out your application. A patient should express their desire for medicinal marijuana, and explain that your compassion club is the best delivery method compared to Health Canada and the black market.
Reluctant doctors are everywhere, though. Through the outreach step, it's possible to accept new members without the doctor's involvement. With well-developed relations, a community organization that deals with illness has counselors that can act as a substitute for a doctor.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferers saw one of two specialists in our community. One opted to assist their patients with medicinal marijuana; the other chose to lecture them. Noting the unusual discrepancy, a reputable agency (i.e. The MS Society) offered to write letters of introduction for clients who encountered this issue.
Confirming the authenticity of the membership requires a phone call to the doctor's office or counselor who filled out the application. The medical waiver allows you to do so. The doctor should be listed in the phone book. If the doctor is not in the phone book, then the application may be fraudulent. Be warned that Canadian and American police may pose as patients, doctors, or any professional in order to entrap you into selling to a police officer.
Once you are satisfied that the application is legit, have the new member sign a Code of Conduct.
The day`s cannabis offerings are featured on blackboards
5. Lawyers 101
"It's easier to ask for forgiveness then ask for permission." – David Malmo-Levine
Pro bono doesn't mean free legal advice, though most lawyers will speak freely and give some hours to a properly organized club operator. Ask them how much their services are going for based on their pro bono rate, compared to their usual hourly rate. Talk is cheap, until you hire a lawyer. Representing yourself is possible.
A reputable local lawyer can do more wonders than a high profile legal eagle. Local barristers understand the lay of the land, and may know of the sympathetic and troublesome cops in town.
It's likely that straight up, they'll urge you not to open a club. They'll provide the harshest example of what potential punishment awaits. That's what they're paid for.
Be enthusiastic and convince them to support the plan. Persuade the lawyer this is an opportunity to use plenty of medicinal marijuana case law locally. You're doing really well when the lawyer starts offering suggestions on how to operate. Ask if they'd be willing to provide a safe place for important member medical information.
Hitzig vs. Canada 
"As the record makes clear, there are a number of people who already have a source of marihuana and wish to engage in compassionate supply of it to those in medical need. Indeed the Government's case rested in large part on their existence. It is argued that Compassion Clubs effectively serve as "unlicensed suppliers" for Authorized-To-Possess (ATP) holders. It may be that not all of these people would satisfy the requirements to become Designated Production License (DPL) holders set out in the MMAR. However, we are satisfied that, on this record, enough would do so that taken together with existing DPL holders, the DPL mechanism as modified could then provide a licit source of supply to ATP holders. Once this modification is implemented, ATP holders would therefore no longer need to access the black market to get the marihuana they need."
Health Canada has never modified the MMAR to accommodate compassion clubs as outlined in Hitzig v. Canada.
Clubs issue durable photo-ID cards that have commitment by member
6. Talk to Your Family, Not the Cops or Media
Depending on the situation, letting your family in on your compassion club activities might be for the best. Possibly the worst scenario is getting bailed out of jail and having an aunt read in the daily paper about how her nephew is supplying the ill with med grass. Then she calls all angry and you are just thankful to be out of jail, and she's yakking about how she doesn't know you any more.
Positive media coverage is a challenge, and interviews ought not to be sought until the club is fully operational. If a reporter really has their ear to the community, they'll find you via your outreach program. Before consenting to an interview, spoon-feed the journalist with information that you've collected. Don't expect a reporter to read pertinent info about medicinal marijuana unless you direct them to fantastic resource material.
Be aware 'Off the Record' doesn't come after a statement. So if you say something stupid, then blubber, "That's Off the Record," it isn't. To go 'Off the Record' with a journalist, you have to say "This is Off the Record" before answering their question. "No comment" is good, but they can print that as a denial to their inquiry.
I recommend AGAINST going to the police and telling them your plans. Again, if The Man is involved in the community, they'll find out about your clinic via the outreach step. Typically, an investigation is launched when operators go to the police "to let them know what's going on," and that isn't going to be good for anyone. Hopefully The Man won't be contacting you by busting down your door. Chances are a Staff Sgt from the Criminal Investigation Bureau or Morality Unit is going to call your club hotline asking questions.
Speak to the local lawyer first. They've had dealings with the cops, and know what they're all about. Attend the meeting with the lawyer if need be. While you stall the investigation, contact the police chief via a faxed letter, explaining the club, and provide them with details of previous speaking engagements. Ask to have a meeting with them.
Arguing law is pointless, pointing out a need for medicinal marijuana works wonders. Investigations become muddied when made political.
7. Perform Outreach
Like any new business, the operator has to have a plan to reach the proposed market. Many people instantly think, "press release, big announcement, lots of media coverage and the customers will be lining themselves up." But remember Da Kine in Vancouver? It ran successfully for four months (May through September 2004) in a Commercial Drive storefront, but once the media promoted Da Kine on television and line-ups began forming, the police were quick to destroy the wonderful place.
The intended market can actually be frightened off by this approach. Instead of contacting media, focus all your energy on networking with local organizations that deal with terminal or chronically ill people. Ask to have a meeting with the director, with or without the staff. There are hundreds of health related organizations, and your club is one of them.
Strong, effective, and confident verbal and written communication skills are needed to pull off the compassion club gig. Be prepared to do public speaking and make many sales-driven phone calls. With all the associated medicinal marijuana press, eighty per cent of the people you will be calling already support your idea. In fact, when organizations book you to speak to their clients, the turnout is always the largest they've seen in a long time. Besides plenty of applications, have business cards for those who simply want your name in their Rolodex. Swapping cards is a crucial networking skill. With every engagement, your skills in this area will improve dramatically.
Community groups – AIDS chapters especially – will welcome a compassion club. The MS Society and fibromyalgia or chronic pain support groups are also good bets. Go talk to seniors' clubs or facilities, and emphasize how cannabis benefits the aged community. Build a strong rapport here.
Professionalism, presentation, and preparation ensure that these groups and speaking engagements results in people subscribing to your services. Connect direct to the market. Developing ties within the community that funnel clients to your services is more effective than a media campaign. A grassroots community outreach campaign can be considered effective when the media and the police call to inquire about your activities.
8. Why the Ill are Sometimes Cranky
Besides chronic illness, people who are disabled have other issues that are affecting them. Government pensions are terribly low, the wheelchair taxi service requires three weeks advance booking, and simply feeling less able than others can upset people.
Unfortunately, the ill have to battle the system for all their benefits, which sometimes has them raising their voices at people that try to help them. Working with the ill can be a very trying task.
Those employed in social service sectors survive for about two years. If you aren't prepared for someone to tell you that they've been puking the last three days straight, haven't slept, and are convinced they're on their death-bed, this might not be the ideal career for you.
People can be genuinely angry over their health problems. They'll go through a whole range of emotions. As someone who is concerned about their health, they'll go through them with you. Be strong. Be a Buddha. Be a listener.
Many of your clients will have physical and mental conditions where you will find that no matter what you do, some people will rail against you, their med-pot provider. Many cannot afford the current price of marijuana and may call you an exploiter, capitalist, profiteer and worse epithets. They may appear to have a chip on their shoulder and will try to force you to accept some degree of responsibility for their woeful situation. It will be an effort some days to try to appease some of these clients.
However, do not provide fronts or advances of product, unless you're independently wealthy. If possible – say, around Christmas – give some sort of price break. Implement a program to assist those in dire financial straits with a few free grams.
The majority of clients will have incomes hovering around the poverty line, with a few making decisions between buying either food, or medicine. Clients will maintain or get better with a clean affordable supply of cannabis. As their health improves some will seek a little bit of employment – or better yet, ask to volunteer at the club a few hours a week. Understanding your clients' health and socio-economic status is an important part of treating with cannabis.
9. Finding Suppliers, Price Markup and Tracking Sales
Opening with one strain on the menu isn't shameful. As long as the grass is not moldy, is properly cured, free of unwanted chemicals, and works at symptom relief, then the pot is fine.
Exposed to plenty of toxins, you'll find your clients are very conscious of their chemical surroundings. Some might want to return purchased grass based on a chemical taste or ineffectiveness. With pharmaceuticals becoming a growing nightmare, many people are turning to herbs in greater numbers, including people who have never tried marijuana. Safe, healthy grass is important.
Be aware, marijuana can simply be labeled with a brand name when it's really generic. Operating with one specific grower, along with maintaining strain info, works wonders in ensuring that the need for pesticide-free green is adhered to. There is a sort of risk, or even hazard, in knowing growers of cannabis. They might be surveilled by police. They might have enemies. The more growers you use, the wider the set of chances that exist for you to encounter dubious situations. When you first start out, work with only one or two growers at a time.
Finding a sympathetic grower with the skills to produce potent organic grass is a difficult task. The grower must allow you, or someone assigned to the inspection task, to visit his or her operation throughout the cycle – even if this means driving around the city for 45 minutes to see if anyone is tailing you. Grow-op inspection is crucial. Old hippies are great for this task.
First, without purchasing the whole crop, ask the producer for specific plants. To keep costs low and to ensure a crop that is clean, healthy and reliable, you may be best to set up some form of self-production. Even if you don't intend to self-produce, a great understanding of cannabis production is important.
Many potential suppliers will come out of the woodwork offering their green – many, and right away, too. A legitimate for-thecause person is a challenge to find. But they are out there. They will express interest in 'assisting the cause' in exchange for some sort of protection, should their operation be stung.
As a believer in pot karma and inspection, ask the grower if they'd be willing to provide discounted ganja, or even free weed. Not only will they receive your assistance, whether it's protesting at their court date or testifying on their behalf, but boosted karma keeps piggies at bay.
Greed plays against the club operator seeking a compassionate grower. Even if you have a regular hook-up that's working, asking potential suppliers for free weed or plant(s) donation generally ends an inquiry – and it's a surefire test of finding someone truly down with the movement. Having been approached so many times, I have a whole routine down. All but two inquiries have ended with the exasperated grower saying, "Those are the street prices."
Competing with prohibition prices puts a terrible cash crunch on compassion clubs. The irony is that clubs buy on the same black market that they're trying to be an alternative to. Legitimacy creates overhead (brochures, business & member cards, office supplies, baggies, labels) – costs that stealth street dealing doesn't have. Larger established outfits have to consider such things as paying the rent, employee wages, utilities and lawyer retainer fees. To make the nut, a mark-up of at least 50 per cent on the wholesale per-gram price is needed. That should cover all the costs associated with supplying the medicine. The retail price needs to be at or below the street price. Basically you need to find fantastic high-class weed at schwag prices.
When it comes to stockpiling the club, the best advice is to keep two stashes. The club's storefront, knapsack, or obvious heat score should have as little amount as possible, especially with the delivery method – though in Lynn Wood's case, the amount doesn't seem to matter. It's all right to be caught with an embarrassingly small amount. A small amount bust embarrasses The Man even more.
Understanding the clients' purchasing habits allows for medgrass to flow through the operator. Anticipating when people have money assists in knowing how much to have on hand at the public location. Disability pensions or other government checks arrive at months' end. Those first few days are always very busy.
Tracking – by either writing down manually or via Excel spreadsheet – the amount of cannabis moving through the clinic allows you to adjust supply levels. At the start of the day, weigh up the medicine. When the day is over, weigh again. Do this for all product. You must account for the difference in weed at day's end, and the exact amount of money should be on hand to account for this.
In his early days, Philippe Lucas of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society recalls that he would weigh in and weight out the same amount, noting that sometimes for days in a row, not a single customer stopped by.
Store the grass in a fridge, with a lock installed on the door, to maintain quality and to keep bad guys out. A member's record sheet allows for purchase date, strain bought, amount of grams and credit (if fronting) info to be retained. As an onsite record, only membership numbers should identify the clients on the sales sheet.
Worried about all this paperwork or trail? Police have scooped up onsite club information from both The VICS and Toronto Compassion Club (TCC), but in both cases, appeared to – touch wood – not have followed up on it.
The paperwork demonstrates to the court that you are endeavoring to monitor use, along with limiting potential black market sales.
Perishables like cannachocolate, tinctures and butters require refrigeration
10. Volunteers, Employees, and Advisory Board
While it's admirable to wear all the clinics' various work hats, having people pitch in will limit the burnout factor. Keep in mind that at the start, you can expect to do all the heavy lifting. Fear and slactivism (talking and toking, but no doing) play a major part in people's non-involvement.
When people do offer up assistance, clearly define their roles, whether it's Webmaster, office assistant, grow inspector, or delivery person. People need to feel their contribution is as important as everyone else. Having volunteers start as soon as they express interest allows for their enthusiasm to create positive energy. Everyone has their own unique talents, so putting them to work in the proper field keeps the clinic running efficiently.
Hippie commune this is not. Give people job titles that pertain to their responsibilities. Don't have the grow inspector doing office assistant work, or the outreach person inspecting grows or the delivery person performing outreach. An advisory board should be formed before anyone is seriously put on a payroll. Just like any company, employee hours need to be tracked. A simple time sheet with day and hours is necessary. When filled out, have someone initials the hours. Writing the hours on a calendar is one simple method of keeping an eye on paid work. Tracking hours avoids fights over money owed.
By the time employees have entered into the operation, a hierarchy needs to be created to define who in the clinic is responsible for what specific tasks. If the clinic started as a solo project, you should be the final decision maker on all aspects of operation. But being a boss doesn't mean becoming a big fat jerk. Allow people to flourish in their assigned roles. When confronted with an operational problem, ask the person who brought it to your attention how they would solve the issue. Create a fun, responsible work environment.
In the beginning, given the size of the community, finding two other people as dedicated as you are may be difficult. Run solo, but with the intention of creating breathing room for others to offer assistance down the road. Turning a solo operation into a member-driven Not-For-Profit clinic has many wonderful rewards. Starting out that way is even grander. However, power sharing has pitfalls if fights break out over decision-making, and rancor oozes out into the membership base. Choosing your coworkers or partners is the most important decision you will make in guiding your club.
Three people – who will sign government paperwork – can register the clinic as a Not-For-Profit with Industry Canada. Positions and responsibilities on the board can include: fundraising and revenue management (Treasurer); clientele issues and liaison (Membership Secretary); organizing agendas, writing minutes/newsletters and correspondences (Secretary); rally, picnic and holiday season party planning (Social Secretary); gatherer of the board and keeper of the peace (President).
An advisory board meets monthly to vote on proposals and ideas, or to solve complexities that crop up from time to time, while also adhering to Not-For-Profit laws. At an annual meeting, the members come out and cast ballots for the positions on the board. The importance of the compassion societies and their connection to members is best illustrated in the size of their annual general meetings (AGMs). Compassion clubs draw enthusiastic crowds of people, while many political associations have trouble generating quorum for their own AGMs.
As the person with the know-how, the sole operator doesn't have to worry about getting cut out of the picture. The board hires the person who planted the seed (preferably the first person put on the payroll). Assigned the role of director, the originator is now working on behalf of the members.
11. Register for Non-Profit and G.S.T.
There are tremendous advantages to shredding the red tape associated with running an official community group or company. Once assigned Not-For-Profit status, municipal by-laws regarding zoning are lifted. A Not-For-Profit can open anywhere in the city, without so much as a peep from the city council.
Make cops, city councilors, judges, and politicians shake their head in disbelief when it's revealed said clinic is registered with Industry Canada and Canada Revenue.
About the only government agency that won't accept your clinic is Health Canada. Write them and ask for a Section 56 Exemption (the Canadian section of the Controlled Substances Act that exempts criminal prosecution for possession of a controlled substance) for your clinic. With HC's blessing via Section 56 Exemption, your clinic would be authentically legal.
When Health Canada rejects your request, you should keep this letter in a safe place as you can use it to establish in court your intent to run a bonafide Compassion Club, if need be.
The Niagara Compassion Society is registered with Revenue Canada to sell medicinal marijuana. When the feds went to collect, I switched arguments and claimed that marijuana was a prohibited substance and couldn't be taxed.
Thrown in front of a Revenue Canada tax tribunal, marijuana failed their tax exemption test, making med cannabis taxable. On appeal, med cannabis patients said "we're unfairly taxed compared to enthusiasts who score on the street." Revenue Canada, in all their genius, decreed that GST stands for Grass Sales Tax! (Despite repeated requests, Canada's Minister of Finance did not return calls relating to the taxing of cannabis.)
"No doubt medicinal marijuana is taxable at seven per cent," says Collette Gentes-Hawn, the Revenue Canada spokesperson, after investigating this grass tax business. "As a provider you have to collect, remit, and file a return. A compassion club is like any other business."
GST registration is very easy. The primary business is medicinal cannabis, and the secondary can be something like cannabis awareness, or left blank. Under the Hitzig ruling (for the entire Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, see www.ontariocourts. on.ca/decisions/2003/october/hitzigC39532.htm) a designated producer can be paid for their efforts. Revenue Canada considers this taxable revenue. Revenue Canada seems to be the only Canadian government body upholding that ruling. Giving the government tax-collected money on something that is supposed to be prohibited is mind bending!
Establishing an interim advisory board with the goal of obtaining Not-For-Profit status isn't as mind boggling as it appears.
Firstly, this is different than charitable status. You will not be issuing charitable receipts that can be deducted via income tax charity donation.
Reading Industry Canada's tedious registration documentation can hurt a stoner's head. A checklist is provided, as well as a walk-through and example letter. Industry Canada's Not-For-Profit How-To is at strategis.ic.gc.ca/epic/internet/incd-dgc.nsf/en/h_cs02147e.html.
Having several people on the board read through the government's red tape mind-field eases that burden. Sweet-talking a lawyer who specializes in this area for some pro bono time would assist too. Another possibility is seeking assistance from the office secretary for your local Member of Parliament. Supposedly, this person is hired to assist in red tape cutting; but finding one that actually devotes an effort to this can be daunting.
Putting people on the interim board who know about operating health clinics or community group boards is very useful. The outreach approach allows interaction with those who sit on other boards to poach from these new contacts. Getting on other community group boards allows you to co-opt their ideas and mingle with other people who's aim is to better the city. If possible, have a fantastic board balance between those who know plenty about the herb, and those who know plenty about community group operations.
Tinctures for those who cannot smoke their cannabis
12. Opening a Funky Clinic
A storefront compassion club faces two serious risks, but is the ultimate achievement for those who began with a dream and a skateboard. The 5-0 Narcotics Unit serving a search warrant is bad, but worse are street thugs looking for an easy target. A violent robbery can seriously put everyone from the clinic's life in jeopardy. Two such incidents at the Toronto Compassion Club left both Warren Hitzig and Zach Naftolin with busted heads.
Anticipate a robbery, so secure the premises. Installing 'Panic Buttons' wired to the cop shop or a security firm might be a consideration. Both The VICS and TCC have reported robberies to police, but consequences from being so up-front could mean The Man returns to legally clean the clinic out with a warrant (as happened to the VICS and the TCC). When the Toronto cops raided the clinic, Hitzig told Naftolin to hit the TCC's newly installed 'Panic Button,' believing thugs were attacking them again. Think of the precautions (secure, locked safes or fridges) not as robbery prevention, but as something to give the narcotics unit a good work out if they decide to raid you.
Preferably the compassion club space has plenty of square footage for a patient waiting room, a receptionist office, one or two dispensing area(s), a kitchen, and for some operations a testing area. (Editor's note: The Vancouver, Toronto, and Sacramento clubs pictured in this issue all follow this general layout.) Obtaining space requires good relations with the landlord. Keeping the space requires a positive, friendly relationship with neighbors. Don't have clients parking in the neighbor's lot, or toking within several hundred meters of the premises. Be forthright to some extent with the landlord. Once again, good communication skills are going to be called upon.
The building is going to be modified for the operation, unless you find a space that was fitted for a cash-advance store, or bank. Both those have excellent robbery prevention setups. Devise a good mantrap. Install a 'buzzer door' on the member's entrance.
The client shows their card and face at the camera, and the receptionist buzzes the member into the waiting room. The waiting room also has a 'buzzer door' that electronically opens to allow the client into the dispensing room. If, in the TCC case, there's a staff entrance off the waiting room, this too needs to be a 'buzzer door'. Essentially, the waiting room is the trap. Should the receptionist inadvertently allow someone unfriendly in, this person is kept at bay from the cash and green.
The cool nature of cannabis allows for creativity in setting up the waiting room. With vibrant colors, comfortable chairs, and reading material, the idea is to create a non-doctor-like waiting room. Putting out Cannabis Culture magazines, or the LeDain report, is not necessarily required. And keep your reading material up to date, but don't put something out that you'll miss (like an expensive hardcover copy of The Cannabible, for example) as books tend to go missing. A member's lending library is one solution. Have the receptionist act as librarian.
Install a corkboard for members to pin up approved announcements. Post clinic notices on the waiting room walls or clinic-only board, whether it's the code of conduct, parking instructions, or friendly reminders. The TCC put an "In Memoriam" candle in the waiting room for members who passed without seeing legalization in their lifetime. A Grill Order Window can be installed in the waiting room so that members who order in advance can simply walk in, pick up, and walk out. Consider it the fast food take-out window.
The receptionist controls the flow of the clients by letting them out of the patient waiting room trap into the dispensing area via the buzzer door. A desk and two chairs in a separate room can work as the distribution area. Dispensing counters are also kickass. Store plenty of green in this area, but the major stash should still be kept safe in a locked fridge. Large bags of grass should not be lying around the clinic. Don't hide it – just tuck the med weed in a properly secured place that few people have access too. When people go to the bank, they don't go to the vault to get their money. The teller does that for them.
Both the staff member and client sit at a small desk or counter and discuss the different strains that might work for the client's symptom relief. Put the different strains on the menu in small little herb bottles so that the client can examine the product. The TCC has an herb rack on their counter with all their different cannabis medicines, along with a baked goods display.
The kitchen has turned into the best addition the TCC could have, more so than their testing room. A fully operational kitchen can be turned into cannabis baking lab, and allows a full range of cooking (tinctures, sprays, chocolates) to take place with excellent safety precautions. No worry about transportation, either. Anticipate a second fridge for THC infused product. The demand for sprays, tinctures and edibles is greatly increasing as people turn to other methods of ingestion. Cooking impaired? Hook up with a canna-baker.
Have a heavy duty safe on the property for storing the money. Keep it locked even during business hours. Put a lock or two on the fridge(s) that store the edibles and grass. Not everyone has access to the vault at banks; the same should apply for where the product is stored at a compassion club.
Besides the outdoor security camera, installing cameras throughout the building is Big Brother-like, but also safe. This is used not only against robbers, but also for members who opt to break a rule such as toking on the property. As part of their massive upgrade, the TCC installed plenty of cameras along with a dedicated computer to monitor them all.
Knowing when members are arriving is also a good plan. To keep everyone in the know, the receptionist can continuously update a whiteboard with time slots on it. Members need to remember to call ahead. An updated arrival time whiteboard allows for staff to control when they can take their breaks or accomplish downtime tasks.
Putting in a full office for the receptionist is groovy. This person is manning your phone, fax machine, email, member files and whatnot. Giving them space to perform this function is crucial. Keep that paperwork flowing. In most cases, the receptionist is the first contact anyone has with a clinic. Be client and health practitioner wise.
A testing room – or the badly misnomered 'toking room' – isn't a must. If opening with a testing lounge, put some serious rules in place. Thirty minutes max. Post a moderate use notice. Install an air filtering system. Stench control is crucial. A sign, "If you're in this room, this switch MUST be ON" assists in reminding members to turn on the exhaust. The philosophy of the room – besides member mingling – is to sample a strain that they may not have tried before. Through sampling, a client can find the strain that works for their symptom relief.
In large cities such as Toronto, keeping the location of the walk-in clinic a members-only secret is much easier than in a small community of 100,000 or less population. Serious cost assessments should be undertaken before undergoing an incredible expenditure for a funky clinic. The membership base, which can be subject to population density, should be examined thoroughly to determine whether the clinic is able to sustain such an operation. A closure due to lack of funds can seriously harm members who have sought cannabis assistance. Anticipate having both deep pockets and debt.
13. Is This Right for Me?
Compassion clubs are a very rewarding, but tiring, form of activism. Opening a cannabis clinic requires dedication.
Seeing people become better health-wise is an amazing feeling, especially in the early members who you'll most likely become attached to over time. But some members will pass away from their illnesses too, and that is very disheartening.
This isn't about playing in the pot, but assisting people in your community – though a life of speaking, toking, and learning about green is pretty damn swell too. If you do smoke pot that is 'club' stash, you have to pay for it by deducting the costs from your wages, or paying directly with your own cash. The missing weight at the end of each day MUST have the equivalent cash on hand to balance. It's very possible to smoke yourself out of business if there is any lack of discipline. (Many people who want to be "dealers" find themselves in big trouble because of this.)
Digging a foothold in your community firmly establishes the issue and greatly infl uences people's opinion. An excellent opportunity might present itself to work on other community problems with other 'respectable' citizens, especially in the area of harm reduction. But beautifying a neighborhood is cool too.
Anticipate a struggle, even with the best-laid plans. Adapt, adopt, and adjust ideas, because all clinics have their own unique approach to operating in their community. Given the erratic enforcement of cannabis laws, working within your own comfort zone based on perceived community tolerance is essential. Support for medicinal marijuana – thanks to tireless activism – is overwhelmingly high in the United States and Canada. Silent majorities are waiting to be tapped. Ruining that hard fought public support is possibly the worst outcome.
After thinking the idea through, and once convinced to go forward, give 'er! Eliminate self-doubt. Stay positive, but ultimately, just give 'er. No sleep until legalization.
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