Compassion dispensaries came to Canada in the late 1990s, based on similar medicinal marijuana clubs in the United States. The goal of compassion clubs is to provide safe access to medicinal, or medical, marijuana when there is no government-sanctioned program, or when such a program is not effectively meeting the need.
Currently, all compassion centres and dispensaries in Canada function within a grey area of the law, providing much needed access to an affordable variety of strains and formats of medicinal cannabis that licensed producers simply cannot imitate.
Health Canada's MMAR (Marihuana Medical Access Regulations) provide a limited (and substantially difficult to acquire) exemption from the law for people who need to possess and grow cannabis for medicinal purposes.
These Regulations protect licensees (‘exemptees’) from prosecution for possessing cannabis, but do not allow for any reasonable type of access except growing your own, which is not a practical option for most people. In addition, the low quality and high price of the limited products offered from licensed and legal producers is another strong argument towards the proliferation of compassion clubs and dispensaries.
For more information about the concerns related to the sales of regulated medicinal cannabis in Canada, please consult Canadians for Safe Access (www.safeaccess.ca)
Helpful articles about the legal status of compassion clubs in Canada: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/05/03/compassion-clubs-marijuana-canada_n_5255732.html