Cannabis has spent a long century dealing with negative labels in a heavily persecuted, bootlegged shadow. Now, with windows of legality opening up around the world, cannabis is becoming the victim of trademark manipulation.

The legalization of cannabis has essentially created two markets- the legal market and the black, or grey, market- and some cannabis users, especially newcomers, avoid the black market specifically because it’s technically illegal. The fact that licensed cannabis is often overpriced and lacks the quality of the black market doesn’t factor with those same newcomers, looking to experiment within this “new” industry.

Some black market vendors, aiming to circumvent this hurdle, are falsely advertising their banned cannabis as legally valid.

Weathered cannabis consumers with years of experience ducking under the authoritative radar naturally have no moral objections to illegal cannabis, and some even actively refuse to buy the legal stuff.

But not everyone fits in that market bracket anymore. There are those that like lab testing and knowing they are smoking legal cannabis. They might even see the amount of excessive packaging as a benefit and view the labels glued to the plastic containers as proof that the cannabis inside is legal and safe.

Plus, regardless of how you feel about legal or black market cannabis, I think we can agree that you’d want to make sure that you’re getting what you think you’re getting.

At the very least, one would hope the labels are reliable because, despite the fact that cannabis is supposed to be legal now, you can still be fined for having illegally sourced cannabis. You want to know the risks and what you’re getting yourself into.

Spotting the Fakes

Paper labels can be fabricated just like money can be illegally replicated. Counterfeit cannabis labels have been popping up in Saskatchewan, and this fake packaging often originates from purchases made on illegal online websites- especially now as many of the illicit dispensaries that were operating across the country have been forced to shut down.

Thankfully, the label replicas have been far from perfect.

They might not have any CBD or THC content on display, although a cannabinoid percentage is required on legal Canadian cannabis products- so you don’t know how strong the cannabis is. Next to this detail, a batch code should be found on display.

More importantly though (well to the government, at least), is the shiny excise stamp. These official stamps are granted exclusively to Licensed Producers, and these pieces of critical data are often missing on counterfeit labels.

Here’s what they look like:

How Can Strict Rules Help?

Excise stamps glisten in different lighting, similar to the shine on your dollar bills, but this anti-counterfeiting measure may only work part of the time. Anti-copy stamps may not appear on legal products with low THC and high CBD. The stamp’s main purpose is to prove a tax duty has been paid, and CBD products do not get taxed like THC does, allowing them to be free of excise duties.

Excise stamps can be faked similar to how money is counterfeited- after enormous effort. THC and CBD percentages can also be mocked up. Even a company name can be illegally duplicated. Producers are always spending a fair bit of pocket change protecting their trademarks and luckily, the counterfeiters had not gone to that length.

How to Protect Yourself

All legal cannabis in Canada goes through a provincial regulatory system. Cannabis purchased legally must be connected to your province’s Liquor Distributor. Each branch serves as Canada’s exclusive access to legal adult-use cannabis. Every cannabis store, website, and purchase will go through that central body.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan allow private stores to sell online. Aside from these two provinces, and the territory of Nunavut (see below,) online sales are confined directly to the Province’s regulatory body.

What Legal Ramifications Exist For You?

The danger would be carrying illegal cannabis that you think is legal. You will happily tell the police officer the source. If the package was missing crucial information, that trained officer would likely spot the counterfeit. Questions would ensue, demanding your story and requiring you to provide proof of purchase. Illegal possession is a fineable offense.

Victims of deception will only be able to testify their case after a court hearing. Sympathy will be difficult to find in police after a simple, quick inspection. Officers will not need to check back into the provincial registry to see your name in the sales history if you unknowingly provide proof of illegal origin. A confession you wouldn’t know you made. Possessing illegal cannabis is a fineable offence.

Official Provincial Websites

  • A list of Manitoba’s Retailers can be found here. Online access exists exclusively through Licensed Cannabis StoresMBLL
  • Nova Scotia Cannabis – An access code acquired from a physical NVSC outlet is required to purchase cannabis online in Nova Scotia.
  • Saskatchewan allows private retailers to sell cannabis online. A database of retailers is available, fortunately – SLGA

Photo Courtesy of Leafly.