Hemp Stores Take Unneeded Hit From Tobacco Act Amendment

Denyse Doran in her hemp store, Jupiter, on Whyte Avenue. (Photo by Greg Southam)Denyse Doran in her hemp store, Jupiter, on Whyte Avenue. (Photo by Greg Southam)It is difficult to be subtle about cigarettes, especially children and cigarettes. Whatever we can do, as a society, to keep our kids far, far away from smoking is laudable. Unless, of course, these efforts are ridiculous.

Last month, the House of Commons passed an amendment to the Tobacco Act, Bill C-32, that prohibits the sale of individual little cigars and blunt wraps. Little cigars are sold in specialty shops that are, statistically, not popular with the under-25 set. Blunt wraps are rectangular snatches of flavoured tobacco used to wrap loose leaf tobacco or, much more likely, marijuana.

Both are currently illegal to sell to minors.

Once the amendment becomes law, hemp stores like Jupiter on Whyte will be forced to sell blunt wraps in packages of 20–which will cost more than $40. The stated purpose of the bill is to keep children away from tobacco.

“Who’s selling tobacco to minors?” said Tom Doran, a jazz drummer and co-owner with his wife, Denyse, of Jupiter. “How are kids getting them? I’ve never seen kids on the street smoking flavoured tobacco. They smoke cigarettes, if they smoke anything, and we don’t sell cigarettes.”

The amendment was carefully drafted to avoid changing the way large multinational companies like Imperial Tobacco do business; menthol cigarettes, for example, were exempted from the new regulations.

“I feel like big tobacco and the government have colluded just for the photo op,” said Demetra Georganas, co-owner of HBI Canada, a small Vancouver company that distributes blunt wraps to retailers like Jupiter.

“It only hurts family-owned businesses like ours and like Jupiter. But how was anyone going to vote against this, in the House of Commons? It would look like you support children smoking.”

Jupiter is a jolly place, with colourful glass pipes and bongs, and a friendly bull terrier named Brenda. Doran’s very organized wife Denyse is helping to co-ordinate opposition to Bill C-32 nationwide. They already have thousands of signatures, though she admits it’s a lost cause.

“You have to be 18 to buy blunt wraps,” she said.

“End of story. A significant percentage of our customers are 18 to 25, but the highest percentage, by far, of the people buying these products are between 30 and 40.”

Denyse and Georganas both stressed, on Monday, that the real source of cigarettes for minors are those who deal in contraband.

“We’ve been policing this all along for the government,” said Georganas, “and now they’re calling us children’s tobacco pedlars. They’re attacking small businesses instead of going after gangs and hoodlums, and people operating on (native) reservations. Forty-eight per cent of cigarette butts found on Ontario schoolyards are contraband.”

Jupiter staff aren’t allowed to display the blunts; they keep them in drawers. The Dorans opened a package of blunt wraps for me, and the tobacco did smell dreamy. Flavours are boundless, from cognac to blueberry, mojito to lychee to maple syrup.

Health Canada didn’t study the issue, but it does make anecdotal sense that flavoured tobacco would be more appealing to children, or anyone, than tobacco that tastes like, well, a cigarette. But blunts are a tiny percentage of the tobacco market, and it couldn’t be clearer that they’re actually built for the marijuana market.

The amendments to Bill C-32 won’t put Jupiter out of business, but it will hurt the clean little store. Some customers will pay $40 for 20 blunts instead of $2 for one.

But since the law will do precisely nothing to keep cigarettes away from children, it can only be a stealth move to cripple the only legitimate, tax-gathering portion of the marijuana industry.

Marc Emery, the high-profile Vancouver pot entrepreneur who has been sentenced to prison in the U. S. for selling hemp seeds, is stopping in Edmonton this week on his farewell tour. He’ll join his supporters on Thursday afternoon at Beaver Hill House Park at 104th Street and Jasper Avenue.

The Dorans are a much more low-key family of advocates, who agree that children shouldn’t be smoking anything.

If marijuana is ever properly decriminalized, or legalized, taxed and regulated, the Doran family of Whyte Avenue would make a thoughtful team of consultants for the federal government.

But for now, they ought to be left alone.

– Article from Edmonton Journal.