‘They’re encouraging us to lie to our customers’

NLC believes the Dabber Hashery is in violation of the Cannabis Act for telling legal-age customers their products are for cannabis.

The only angle in the Dabber Hashery where a picture can be taken is in front of the window. Keefe fears any pictures of his products may give the the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation reason to believe he’s promoting products that investigators say are illegal because of the word cannabis.  Andrew Waterman/Kicker

Andrew Waterman

After six stressful and confusing days for the owners of The Dabber Hashery, Newfoundland Liquor Corporation inspectors now say the investigation into the store has been passed on to Health Canada.

The owners, however, still don’t know what part of the law they’ve broken.

The store has been selling cannabis accessories from their new storefront on Duckworth Street since September, but received an unexpected visit last Wednesday – the day cannabis was legalized.

“Cannabis was legal for 12 hours and 13 minutes when they visited my shop,” Jon Keefe said.

Keefe, his two business partners, and three customers were in the small store when the two inspectors entered. They told them their interpretation of the legislation was wrong. They said if the business says the word cannabis, or suggests that the products in the store are used for cannabis, they’re in violation of the Cannabis Act.

The liquor corporation inspectors suggested to the owners that they change the word cannabis to the word smoking.

“When I hear the word smoking with nothing else attached to it, my immediate assumption is that it’s about tobacco,” Keefe said.

“They’re encouraging us to lie to our customers, [to] misinform them and tell them that these cannabis accessories are for consuming tobacco.”

Keefe said he couldn’t promote tobacco to his customers in good faith and says it would be absurd to tell a customer holding a bong in one hand and legal cannabis in the other, their products are for something other than cannabis.

The Newfoundland’s Liquor Corporation’s website says its mandate is not only one of enforcement.

“A key component of NLC’s Regulatory Services department’s mandate is to facilitate and promote social responsibility in the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages for all stakeholders in the province,” reads the statement.

It’s left Keefe scratching his head.

“Social responsibility – and they’re asking me to tell people to smoke tobacco,” said Keefe. “It’s bananas.”

A Newfoundland Liquor Corporation inspector points at the word cannabis while at Dabber Hashery. The owners of the Duckworth Street store say the allegations keep changing. Supplied photo

Keefe contacted several other cannabis accessory shops in town and says they’re the only cannabis accessory store they’ve spoken to who, to this point, were visited by Newfoundland Liquor Corporation investigators.

“We just absolutely have no idea how this happened [or] where this came from and nobody is able to give us any solid answers,” he said.

Somewhere between Wednesday, when the first allegation was made, and Thursday, the government agency changed the allegation to promoting cannabis to children, despite the store having signage stating anyone under the age of 19 is not allowed to enter.

The store hadn’t heard anything else until Greg Gill, a spokesman for the NLC, was quoted in a CBC article about the situation on Tuesday. The allegation had, once again, returned to the use of the word cannabis within the store.

“In these three interactions the story has changed a couple of times already,” Keefe said. “So it’s a moving target we’re trying to hit here. We don’t even know what concerns to address.”

Today, Keefe says he spoke with Craig Hapgood, manager of operations, regulatory compliance with the liquor corporation. He said he was told it’s possible the only thing on record about the Dabber Hashery’s issues is the email from Gill to the CBC.

Keefe says he has tried to contact Gill several times but without success. Keefe is currently in the process of trying to get a copy of that email.

While they wait to figure out what they’re being investigated for, or even if they are being investigated, the Dabber Hashery remains in limbo.

“Christmas is just around the corner,” Keefe said. “We’ve got to get our ordering done for the big holiday rush. What if that shows up and they come and take it all on us? We’d go bankrupt.”

“Regardless of whether I’m in the right or not, I still have to deal with anything they feel like throwing at me.”

Since the majority of the products currently in the store were purchased before legalization, most don’t make mention of cannabis. But if that changes, Keefe worries his business will go under.

“Now that cannabis is legal in Canada, you’re going to start seeing the words cannabis on packages,” Keefe said.

“If we just take this right now and say, we’ll stop saying the word cannabis, we’ll say smoking, this time next year we’ll be out of business because we won’t be able to put any products on our shelves.”

Since the province is referencing federal legislation, if investigators are correct in their interpretation of the new laws, it will have a Canada-wide impact on any store that sells cannabis accessories other than licensed dispensaries.

“They haven’t been able to quote any of the legislation that I’m breaking, it’s all just really vague terms,” Keefe said.

According to the Cannabis Act, under section 27, it is prohibited for someone to sell cannabis accessories with a label that is misleading about its intended use.

“My biggest fear is that I have to spend all of my time fighting this through lawyers and letters and emails, rather than running my fledgling business and helping it survive its first year,” Keefe said.

“Regardless of whether I’m in the right or not, I still have to deal with anything they feel like throwing at me.”

Neither the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation or Health Canada were prepared to do an interview prior  to publication.

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