Calgary cancer centre rejects a $6,000 donation because it came from a cannabis club

Alberta Health Services says it will not accept philanthropic contributions from the cannabis sector until its policy is updated

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A donation on behalf of a late cancer patient has been rejected by the Alberta Health Services because it came from the Calgary Cannabis Club.

In November of last year, Rick Beaver passed away from esophageal cancer. It was the 65-year-old’s dying wish that proceeds of a fundraiser held in his honour would be donated to his treatment facility—the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

Beaver was one of the first customers signed up at the Calgary Cannabis Club in 2016. The organization supported Beaver through his battle and held an auction after his passing, intending to donate $6,000 in funds raised to the cancer clinic.

“Once a day he would do a wake-and-bake video for the group, and post daily about his progress and how cannabis was helping him manage his pain,” says the president of the Calgary Cannabis Club, John Ferrier, on the phone to the Straight.

“A lot of the club members would go visit him in the hospital. He just really was an important part of our community and he made a big difference in a lot of people’s lives. He always carried a message of positivity, right to the end.”

Beaver passed away in November 2018 after battling esophageal cancer.
Calgary Cannabis Club

Beaver was one of the first patients at the cancer treatment centre to have cannabis-use documented as a supplemental therapy on his medical charts, so it seemed logical that the club support future patients, says Ferrier.

But after no response to inquiries, the club’s treasurer reached out to AHS, only to be snubbed when the health authority heard the organization’s name.

“Rick’s wish was that it go to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre,” says Ferrier. “We were just trying to honour those wishes.”

This is the first time the organization has had a donation rejected. Ferrier says the AHS initially seemed happy to accept the donation, but declined the money upon hearing the word “cannabis”.

The club’s treasurer initially pushed back, offering to submit the funds as a private member donation.

“They said because they knew where it was coming from, they just couldn’t take it,” says Ferrier.

The cannabis advocacy group has made successful donations on behalf of patients in the past. Ferrier notes that, in 2016, the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals planted a tree and mounted a plaque commemorating a former member after the club donated over $6,000.

“I believe they were caught off guard. They said they would look at updating their bylaws, but the biggest thing that irks me is that they’ve got two alcohol companies that they’ve accepted money from.”

The funds were raised legally, according to Ferrier. The club held an event auctioning off legal cannabis-related items, like bongs and hemp products—all donated from local head shops and business owners who knew Beaver.

Shortly after the story broke, the AHS released a statement outlining its guidelines regarding cannabis philanthropy.

The statement says the AHS is currently working with Health Canada and other leaders across Canada to revamp their policy. In the meantime, the health authority will not accept donations from the weed industry of any kind. 

The statement continues: “Until the engagement is complete and a longer-term perspective on cannabis philanthropy has been determined, AHS will defer accepting any donations from the cannabis sector. AHS will update its foundation partners about progress of the engagement throughout 2019, and will also provide materials to support board discussions and decision-making related to cannabis.”

The cannabis club’s board members are meeting tonight (January 9) to discuss alternative causes to support. Ferrier says several charities, including the Terry Fox Foundation, have expressed interest in commemorating Beaver’s legacy. He adds the donation could also be used to create a fund for cancer patients who can’t afford cannabis.

“It has brought to light a good opportunity for all these organizations to put a rush on updating their bylaws and policies regarding donations from cannabis organizations,” says Ferrier.

“It’s legal now…it’s been legal for medical marijuana advocacy groups for a while now. If you ask me, they should have been ready for it.”

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