Quebec ban on selling items ‘associated with cannabis’ challenged in court

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A cannabis accessory and lifestyle retailer in Quebec has taken the provincial government to court over a law that prevents it from selling many items associated with cannabis.

The court case brought by Prohibition was heard in the Superior Court of Quebec last week.

Prohibition, which does not sell cannabis, is a head shop and counter-culture store with 24 Quebec locations, including corporate-owned and franchise locations.

One section of the law being challenged violates Prohibition’s right to freedom of expression, said Christopher Mennillo, a co-owner and executive vice president of Prohibition.

Specifically, section 50 of Quebec’s Cannabis Regulation Act prohibits businesses from selling “an object that is not cannabis if a name, logo, distinguishing guise, design, image or slogan that is directly associated with cannabis, a brand of cannabis, the Société québécoise du cannabis (cannabis retailer) or a cannabis producer appears on the object.”

Violators are subject to fines starting at 2,500 Canadian dollars ($2,000).

Menillo said some Prohibition stores have been warned about selling certain items since the law took effect, but never fined.

Because the section of the law in question treats cannabis accessories as cannabis, the ban on selling certain non-cannabis items does not prevent stores like Prohibition from selling pipes or bongs with cannabis symbolism or references.

However, Mennillo said, the ban “extends to things such as books, for example, or t-shirts, or literally anything that is an indirect reference to cannabis.”

“For example, if we had a t-shirt with ‘420’ on it, that would be considered an indirect reference to cannabis,” he said.

Prohibition estimates that it has lost CA$1.5 million per year due to the law since it took effect in October 2018.

“We took a ridiculous amount of merchandise and had to pull it from our shelves, and essentially they’ve just been sitting in a warehouse collecting dust,” said Mennillo.

Several other Quebec retailers are supporting the legal challenge, he said.

The application for judicial review asks the court to find that Prohibition’s right to freedom of expression was violated, and that section 50 of Quebec’s Cannabis Regulation Act is unconstitutional and invalid.

The Attorney General of Quebec declined to comment on the case, with a spokesman citing “respect for the judicial process” while the matter is before the court.

Quebec is home to some of Canada’s tightest restrictions on legal recreational cannabis, including Canada’s highest age for legal use (21).

The province, Canada’s second-largest by population, has also banned selling cannabis vape products, as well as edibles that could be considered a “treat, confectionery, dessert, chocolate or any other product attractive to persons under the age of 21.”

Quebec’s ban on home cultivation of non-medical cannabis was overturned by the courts in 2019, although the Quebec government said it would appeal that ruling.

Only the government-owned Société québécoise du cannabis is permitted to sell recreational cannabis in Quebec.

Solomon Israel can be reached at [email protected]