The saying goes: "the best place to hide is in plain sight"—and it’s now a sales tactic some unlicensed cannabis dealers in Saskatchewan have adopted.
Federally approved weed is easy to spot: the very plain, child-resistant box, bottle, or tube brandishes a small company logo, a sharp yellow Health Canada warning about the “risks” of consuming, a provincial tax stamp similar to that found on cigarettes, and, of course, a glaring red THC stop sign.
Health Canada’s packaging restrictions have come under fire since the regulations were announced last October. Some critics call the layers of cardboard and plastic wasteful and environmentally unconscious, while others take aim at the limited wiggle room for branding, education, and consumer guidance.
Remember the good ole days when your #weed came in a small plastic baggie. Buying used to be simple, discreet… and hysterical WARNING labels weren't required. Now take a look: for a measly 15 grams of 'legal' cannabis… so much wasteful packaging + shipping, environmental costs. pic.twitter.com/rOCNvZGn1l— PotCafe (@pot_cafe) October 29, 2018
But instead of resisting the plain packaging rules, some unregulated dealers are draping their product in what appears to be government-approved skin. According to a report from CBC, weed is popping up across Saskatchewan that looks legal, but isn’t.
The article quotes the assistant manager of a licensed Saskatoon cannabis shop. He discovered the counterfeit products when a customer brought them into his store, Prairie Records.
"You can order cannabis from black market means," Chase Ruttig told a CBC reporter. "When those labels are confusing and have Health Canada labelling on it, it makes it even harder for customers to differentiate what's a legal, regulated Health Canada-tested product, and what is something from the grey market or the black market that could get them in trouble."
He continues: “There are a lot of things that somebody who isn't as initiated in cannabis may be confused about […] We just want to clear those things up so people are making a conscious decision when they purchase their cannabis and know what's above board and what might be risky for them."
This could arguably go the other way, too. Think about it: An unsuspecting customer purchases a healthy homegrown gram of illicit bud dawning seemingly legal labeling, then when it runs out they seek out the visibly similar product in their local pot shop. Cracking the package they quickly discover what they’ve purchased is actually a dusty, odourless gram of federally approved weed. The disappointment and risk runs both ways.
The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), the provincial authority on cannabis, says they are aware of the chameleon products and turning to the big dogs for support.
"SLGA is aware of the illegal cannabis with packaging designed to look like official Health Canada approved product," David Morris, an SLGA spokesperson, said in a statement.
"Whenever SLGA becomes aware of information like this, we share it with Health Canada and the police.”
Despite the commendable ingenuity, an individual can incur a number of fines under the Cannabis Control (Saskatchewan) Act if caught selling or knowingly distributing weed from an illicit source. Same goes for the buyer.
Health Canada, the federal authority in charge of drafting and enacting cannabis regulations, took the opportunity to remind consumer’s where legal weed can be found in Canada.
A statement reads: “Such cannabis products would be produced under a federal licence, and sold to consumers by a provincially or territorially authorized retailer, or by a federally licensed seller of cannabis for medical purposes.”