Canada legalized cannabis back in 2018, though one particular province has been reluctant to come around to the change. In Quebec, bizarre new laws were enacted to ban the sale of any and all products bearing words or images associated with the use of cannabis, except for cannabis products themselves, of course.
In this stingy process, longstanding retailers including many headshops were faced with new laws forcing them to pull products like this off of their shelves. However, one longstanding chain of headshops, Prohibition, has been working tirelessly for the last three years against these laws and is currently representing all smoke and head shops to challenge this law.
The ban prevents private retail shops from selling anything with images, slogans, or words tied to marijuana. Only accessories used explicitly for cannabis consumption, like bongs and pipes, can be sold. Their aim is to allow for cannabis use, but not the culture. Quebec’s total ban removes every and all references to cannabis— including books, candles, apparel, and more— which is an infringement on certain freedoms.
Enter Prohibition. Prohibition was opened in a Montreal flea market back in 1984 and has since found its way into about 25 stores across Quebec. When cannabis was legalized in 2018, the owner, Christopher Mennillo, expected things to be easier. Instead, Quebec cracked down and forced Prohibition (and many other stores like it) to reevaluate their entire inventory and pull products from the shelves to stay compliant.
Even with legalization, cannabis prohibition is still in full force in Quebec. While cannabis use is legal under federal law, Quebec’s laws are tight. They still prohibit the cultivation of cannabis and they raised the legal age from 18 to 21. “Cannabis might be legal,” Mennillo says, “but 35 years ago when it was illegal, we were selling books and t-shirts. Now that it’s legal, all of a sudden we can’t sell these things. It’s a step in the wrong direction.”
This is impacting small businesses drastically, with smaller mom and pop headshops being hit the hardest. When the laws came into effect, over $100,000 worth of products were pulled from their shelves. Prohibition is experiencing an annual loss of at least $1.5 million thanks to the ban.
“It’s a significant amount of money for a small family-run business, but it’s even more intense when you recognize that there are small mom-and-pop shops that have been part of advocating for cannabis for so long,” says Mennillo.
With that in mind, Prohibition began a legal case against Quebec in 2018. They finally had their day in court and wrapped up by April 15. While Mennillo says there is no way to tell how Justice Marc St. Pierre may rule, cannabis advocates in Quebec will still have their work cut out for them to get back on pace.
“After 100 years of cannabis propaganda, it’s not the kind of thing that gets flipped on its head simply through legalization,” he says. “It’s going to take quite a lot more effort from everyone, businesses and individuals alike, to help remove the negative connotation that surrounds cannabis.”
Regardless of the outcome, Prohibition will continue to advocate for cannabis in the stingiest province in the country and fight for the people’s right of freedom of expression.