One thing is absolutely clear.
Once recreational cannabis is legal, Canadians will be allowed to buy live marijuana plants, at least in the eight provinces that will allow home grows.
At least on paper, we’ll be able to buy them from provincially regulated retailers – government monopoly or private stores, depending – or, failing that, from the licenced producers that sell to medical patients.
Here’s what Health Canada told us (emphasis ours):
Upon coming into force of the Cannabis Act, adults in Canada will be allowed to legally engage in the following activities:
Purchase fresh or dried cannabis, cannabis oil, plants and seeds for cultivation from either a provincially or territorially regulated retailer, or where this option is not available, directly from a federally licensed producer.
And that’s about where the clarity ends.
No province that we talked to would clearly say either that they would sell people live plants or let people buy them from licenced producers.
British Columbia said that it wouldn’t allow either.
B.C.’s Liquor Distribution Branch will neither sell live plants nor let residents buy them from licenced producers, provincial public safety spokesperson Colin Hynes said in an email. He did not respond to questions about the province’s reasoning.
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Ontario is still deciding on the forms of marijuana products to be sold in Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (OCRC) stores and online, LCBO spokesperson Nicole Laoutaris wrote in an email.
“If a form of cannabis allowed under federal law was not available to retail in-store or online through OCRC, the retailer and province would address the reasons why, then refer to and follow provincial and federal legislation to determine the purchasing option for Ontarians,” she wrote.
Alberta is “still looking at which features and products will be part of our retail system on day one, and it is too early to determine what will be available this summer,” wrote justice ministry spokesperson Veronica Jubinville.
New Brunswick has no plans to sell live plants directly, said finance ministry spokesperson Sarah Bustard. She did not respond to questions about why, or about whether New Brunswick residents would be allowed to deal directly with licenced producers.
Some Canadians can already buy live plants from licenced producers — registered medical patients or designated growers, people who are allowed to grow plants for them.
Eight medical marijuana producers are licenced to sell live plants directly to medical customers: one each in Alberta and Manitoba, three in Ontario and three in B.C. They start plants to order and courier them to customers when they’re a few weeks old.
However, they’re expensive — Burlington, Ont.-based Maricann sells its plants for $75 each.
“It’s really unaffordable for medical patients to buy clones from licenced producers,” says Jenna Valleriani, a strategic adviser for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
“On the grey market, I’ve had people tell me that they pay $10 a clone or less,” she says. “I think it’s likely that most people are going to get those starting materials from the illicit or grey market. It’s easier, it’s more accessible, and it’s more affordable.”
Maricann spokesperson Graham Farrell said that the company had had “no internal discussions” about selling live plants to recreational users.
“Maybe down the road, as far as a branding and marketing strategy, but it’s not at the front of the line right now.”
The plants are expensive because they’re “made to spec” and come with high-quality shipping containers, Farrell said.
“There’s an awful lot that goes into the development of those strains,” says Chris Pellz of Whistler Medical Marijuana.
“If someone chooses to just give them away for $5, that’s their business decision. It’s not easy.”
Despite the cost, buying live plants may be more attractive than starting them from seed, Valleriani says.
Some of the plants started from seeds by home growers will be male and won’t produce buds, but they will still count against a household’s four-plant limit before they’re culled. As well, for inexperienced growers, it takes a lot of doubt out of the process.
“It requires a bit more skill to grow plants from seed. If people just want four plants, they may not be interested in starting them from seed. They’d rather get healthy plants that are just about ready to go.”
Live plant sales should be pretty straightforward, Pellz says.
“What might make the most sense is that they would just physically just come to the licenced producer of their choice that was actively selling live plants, and simply leave with their order of x plants.”
“Or perhaps there would be some drop shipping type arrangement, where they could order online and then that order was simply passed on to a licenced producer who was providing live plants, and they would ship directly to the purchaser. I don’t see that as being too complicated.”
Pellz says he would like to sell plants to the B.C. recreational market, and thinks the province will eventually change its mind.
“If the federal government is allowing for it, the provincial governments will figure out how to facilitate it, and you will see it happen. It’s not an easy one, so that’s likely the challenge.”
Bruce Linton, CEO of Smith’s Falls, Ont., cannabis producer Canopy Growth, says his company considered and rejected sales of live plants.
“We looked at it, but logistically you’re shipping plants through a courier system. This morning when I woke up, it was -20. If you’re not home when we deliver the cannabis, the courier takes it to the local depot and they sit there.”
“Our conclusion was that it would be more effective to provide people with a seed pack than to put a plant in a courier pack and hope it doesn’t die or become stressed.”
Canopy’s seed offerings — which range from $30 to $55 for a three-pack — don’t sell well, he said.
Because of the lack of centralized licencing systems, it’s not clear how many people grow their own recreational cannabis in U.S. states like Colorado, where it’s legal. About 11,000 Canadians are registered to produce cannabis for themselves or another person for medical use, though not all of them necessarily do.
Linton predicts that home grows will be a hobby that some people will try and abandon.
“I think it will be a novelty at the beginning. Remember, these plants get to be a reasonably big size. They emit a vast array of different aromas, and they generate quite a bit of humidity.”
Pellz is more bullish.
“The answer might surprise us,” he says. “It might be quite popular to have four plants in your house or your backyard. The plants are fairly hardy once they’ve taken root.”
“It’s kind of new and different, so we don’t know.”