Home Growers Take on Corporate Cannabis in Canada
With the legal cannabis market increasingly dominated by “Big Bud,” more Canadians are turning to homegrown. They’re fighting in the courts for their right to do so — challenging efforts by two provinces to ban homegrown pot outright.
In October 2018, Canada legalized cannabis for adult use nationwide. Under Canada’s Cannabis Act, adults are allowed to cultivate up to four cannabis plants per household, either indoors or outdoors. Now, almost a year into legalization, more Canadians are taking advantage of this freedom — and are pushing to expand it.
Take, for example, a nursery in the small town of Petitcodiac, New Brunswick that decided to hold a workshop on home cannabis cultivation last week. They were overwhelmed by the turnout and had to find a bigger venue at the last minute.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bob Osborne, owner of Corn Hill Nursery, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “We’ve obviously touched a nerve.”
Another CBC report on this year’s home-growing trend quoted Alex Rea, owner of Ontario’s Homegrown Hydroponics chain, who boasted of booming sales — and the obvious reason for them.
“For the price-conscious consumer, if you’re paying around $10 a gram for the varieties at the store, you might be only paying 50 cents per gram or less for a variety you grow yourself at home,” Rea said.
The report also happily raises the possibility that the Cannabis Act’s four-plant limit may simply go unenforced. The enforcement effort is up to local police, and they don’t seem particularly interested.
“To suggest that we’re going to have teams of officers peeking in people’s backyards to see if they’re growing four plants, it’s just not realistic,” said Don Belanger of the Toronto Drug Squad.
However, there are two Canadian provinces that banned home-growing cannabis altogether: Quebec and Manitoba. Cannabis advocates are fighting the bans — and here, too, they’ve seen progress.
A Judge Rules for Home Grow in Quebec
A key victory for homegrown cannabis in Canada came on Sept. 3, when the provincial courts overturned Quebec’s prohibition on home cultivation. Quebec Superior Court Justice Manon Lavoie ruled that the provincial prohibition infringed upon the jurisdiction of Canada’s federal government by instituting the ban.
The decision means it is now legal to grow your four cannabis plants at home in Quebec, the Canadian Press reports.
The challenge was brought by Montreal resident Janick Murray-Hall — a bit of a professional prankster, and publisher of the satirical “fake news” website World News Daily Report. He argued the ban violated the federal Constitution Act of 1867, which defines the limits of federal and provincial jurisdiction.
Quebec’s provinicial law imposed a fine up to $750 (in Canadian dollars) for home cultivation — doubled on a second offense. The federal Cannabis Act states that provinces have the right to create “additional rules for growing cannabis at home, such as lowering the number of plants per residence.” But it does not say that provinces can ban home cultivation outright.
Justice Lavoie found that, in fact, they cannot ban home growing. He wrote (translated from the French): “The effect of the provincial provisions is a step backward, as though the new federal law aiming at accessibility and legalization of cannabis had never existed.”
Nobody had actually been charged yet under the Quebec law.
Manitoba’s Ban Might Topple Next
Over in Manitoba, where there is a similar ban on home growing cannabis, only one person has been charged for home cultivation since Manitoba’s Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act came into effect last fall, a provincial spokesperson told CBC News.
Cannabis advocates in Manitoba say that’s one too many, of course. And with the ruling in Quebec as precedent, the CBC portrays it as a matter of time before a similar challenge is brought in Manitoba.
Manitoba’s law actually imposes a $2,542 fine for home cultivation. When it was instated last year, legal experts warned that the province could be crossing the line by imposing such a hefty fine, according to the CBC.
No other provinces have imposed stricter limits than the four plants allowed by federal law — Quebec and Manitoba stand alone in going beyond the federal Cannabis Act. And in Manitoba, home cultivation is still permitted for registered medical marijuana patients.
The reversal in the Quebec courts may cause provincial leaders to rethink plans to further rein in the cannabis community. Quebec’s cannabis law was passed in June 2018 under the previous Liberal government. The new Coalition Avenir Québec government has announced plans to raise the legal age of consumption from 18 to 21. It also wants to ban the sale of cannabis edibles.
Homegrow Increasingly Important as ‘Gray Market’ Dispensaries Squeezed Out
Before Canada legalized adult-use cannabis, consumers could often turn to “gray market” dispensaries to purchase their pot, particularly in Vancouver. But now, these dispensaries are fighting for their right to stay open as they face new enforcement and competition. Canada has licensed only a select few dozen Licensed Producers to sell recreational cannabis (and opened government-operated pot shops), pushing out these old-school, smaller retailers.
In May of this year, British Columbia’s Supreme Court rejected a bid from nine Vancouver dispensaries seeking to stay open. In a strange irony, Vancouver is shutting down its long-tolerated but unlicensed cannabis dispensaries — even as British Columbia struggles to meet demand amid a dearth of licensed retail outlets.
David Malmo-Levine, a longtime prominent Canadian cannabis advocate and Vancouver resident, told Cannabis Now he recently sold his share in the dispensary he co-founded, the ironically named Stressed and Depressed — citing the exorbitant fees imposed by the city government.
“I had to sell my dispensary because I couldn’t come up with the $35,000 [Canadian dollars] per year,” he said. “It’s a rich man’s game, now.”
Without mom-and-pop licensed dispensaries to turn to, home grow is even more relevant for Canadians looking to avoid corporate cannabis.
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