Jeet-Kei Leung admits that the B.C. Compassion Club Society is better known for the “medicinal-marijuana side of things” than for its adjoining Wellness Centre, which provides a number of subsidized treatment services on a sliding scale.
“It’s been part of our core mission and part of our nonprofit model, which has been to use the revenue from our cannabis sales to create this affordable natural health care and to make it accessible to our members,” Leung, communications coordinator for the Commercial Drive–based society, told the Georgia Straight by phone. “We’ve been doing that for over a decade, so it’s something to be really proud of, I think. Over that decade, we’ve served over 5,000 members with serious or terminal illnesses. There have been a lot of benefits that have come through the additional therapies that have been offered on the wellness side.”
The society generates approximately $3 million annually, Leung said. In 2008, he said, BCCCS subsidized 89 percent of a total of 2,524 treatments. He said there are 46 staff in total at the two addresses, with about half working full-time and half working a day or more a week. They provide herbs, massage, nutritional advice, reiki treatments, clinical counselling, craniosacral therapy, and, more recently, yoga.
“We can all see the problematic aspects of the allopathic side of things,” Leung said of traditional medicine. “People want to find remedies that have less impacts on their bodies and that are more in line with its natural processes.”
The sliding scale for treatments ranges from $5 to $30, according to 34-year-old Meredith Burney, who has been a clinical herbalist at the society for almost 10 years. Her products are not covered under provincial health plans.
“We won’t turn anyone away, so if they are having difficulty accessing the services because they can’t even afford that $5, then we have a bit of a process, but we will [waive it], if we agree,” Burney said by phone. “As a herbalist, when I see a client I am generally recommending supplements, herbal teas, herbal tinctures, and things like that. And again, most of our members are impoverished and they can’t afford it. So we will part-donate or completely donate, depending on their situation, those products to them.”
In a notable case in her early days there, Burney may have saved the life of one woman who had hepatitis C. Doctors had said that her viral load indicated she would die without interferon treatments, which the woman was against taking.
“She came to see me and she had ceased drinking, which was a huge, huge piece of it,” Burney said. “Then she went on a herbal tea, and her viral load dropped to almost nothing. She no longer was being pressured by her medical practitioners to go on treatment. So she was pretty pleased.”
Burney recently saw the woman in a store and said she was “doing all right”.
“But her life is hard,” Burney said. “She was one of my first clients here. It’s nice to have known her now for almost 10 years and…to see her kids grow up.”
Asked about her take on prescription drugs, Burney said everything has its place but that she is a “herbs first” person. “It is a symptomatic release,” she noted of the cannabis dispensed next door.
“We want to look at the cause for what’s going on with them,” she said of the medicinal-marijuana users. “That can be physical, emotional, and so we want to look at the same person. Not everyone decides they want to do natural therapies, and we’re very much client-centred. So we want to help each person to heal themselves. We’re just agents in trying to make that happen.”
The downside to helping so many people so cheaply is the waiting lists, Burney said. It takes more than a year to see a herbalist like her, she added.
By Matthew Burrows