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How Does Law Enforcement Know Your Cannabis Is Legal? Keep Your Receipt

November 13, 2018
law enforcement legal cannabis(tirc83/iStock)
Suppose you are walking through town and are stopped by the police. For whatever reason, you consent to a search. Among the items they find is a small amount of legally obtained cannabis. One of the cops asks you for a receipt from the cannabis store or some other proof that the cannabis in your possession was actually obtained legally. You can’t remember where your receipt is, maybe you threw it away. So, the cops charge you with possession and you’re looking at up to six months less a day behind bars and up to a $5,000 fine.

Can’t happen here, right? But it has.

Just before two in the morning on October 22, a pair of Quebec City police officers spotted a car turning from Robert Bourassa Boulevard onto Laurier Boulevard without its lights on. Suspecting the driver to be impaired, the police pulled the car over. The 40-year-old driver—a man from nearby Lévis whose name has not been released—was given a roadside coordination test and searched. He was charged with a number of offenses and his car was seized.

One of those charges stemmed from the man’s inability to produce proof that the cannabis in his possession was obtained legally. The amount the suspect had, it should be noted, was in excess of Quebec’s 30-gram limit.

“With the eye, we can’t distinguish (legal cannabis from illegal)… A casserole is a casserole.”
Claude Rouillard, neuropharmacology professor at Université Laval

While it might seem excessive, it is the law. According to the Quebec Cannabis Act: “in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the transportation of cannabis without a bill of lading indicating the names and addresses of the shipper and the receiver constitutes proof that it is intended for delivery in Québec”—which police forces are interpreting as meaning if you don’t have documentation from the Société Québécoise du cannabis (SQDC), your cannabis is illegal.

Yeah, they mean it. “So that people do not have to worry,” said Étienne Doyon, public relations officer for the Service de police de la Ville de Quebec (SPVQ), “keep either proof of purchase or the original packaging.”

Still, police and lawyers tell Leafly that it would be nearly impossible to make such a charge stand up in court. The fact is that cannabis looks like cannabis and smells like cannabis, and it’s hard to determine exactly which cannabis came from where.


Who Pays? Regulating Cannabis in Canada Estimated to Cost $546 Million

“With the eye, we can’t distinguish (legal cannabis from illegal),” said Claude Rouillard, a neuropharmacology professor at Université Laval. “A casserole is a casserole.” Indeed, legal experts scoff at the idea that law enforcement officers can tell the difference between legal and illegal cannabis. “The police certainly can’t taste it,” said Montreal criminal attorney Alexandra Longueville.

Rouillard did, however, note that it would be possible to determine if the cannabis in question is one of the strains carried by the SQDC, but it would require intricate laboratory testing at great cost. While Quebec has the harshest cannabis laws in Canada, it also has a long history of avoiding or abandoning very expensive court cases, as when 36 Hells Angels facing hundreds of charges were allowed to walk in 2015.

The idea that the crown would send a small amount of cannabis to be forensically analyzed to determine its origin in order to lay a simple possession charge is simply not very likely.

However, police appear to be eager to charge people who give even the slightest indication that their cannabis was not legally obtained. “Police officers will arrest people in possession of illegal cannabis if, by facts, by observations or by any information collected, they have established reasonable grounds to believe that it is illegal cannabis,” said Doyon.

Since legalization is still in its infancy, confusion over the laws and their enforcement is overwhelming. Longueville called the current environment “vague.” Issues such as the transfer of legal cannabis from one adult to another—like a gift—have not been broached.


‘The Town That Banned Everything’ Permits Its First Cannabis Store

Of course, it is always up to the crown to prove any illegal act, which could make the section of the Quebec Cannabis Act that refers to proving provenance impossible to prosecute in court.

Still, if you are in Quebec, it would be prudent to retain any receipts, original packaging and other evidence that the cannabis in your possession was obtained legally at the SQDC. Do not submit to any searches unless legally required to do so, and—as is always a good idea—keep your mouth shut around law enforcement officers.

Jerry Langton's Bio Image

Jerry Langton

Jerry Langton is a political reporter and author who splits his time between Canada and NYC.

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  • I’m confused whether you can carry your personal homegrown? This article sounds like the only cannabis you are allowed to have on your person in public is purchased cannabis from the NSLC. Re the “gifting” of cannabis, it is my understanding that you can gift up to 30 grams.

    • TheGuyWhoCares

      Don’t worry Nancy, you’re good in NS. Just don’t carry over 30g in public. You can store as much as you want in your home.

    • I thought that was true too, but I looked at this : and read that home growing is prohibited in Quebec.

    • Grizzly Adams

      The catch with this situation is the fact that home growing isn’t permitted in Quebec

    • Robert Gerus

      Nancy send me some please lol

    • Erin Liz

      I was thinking the same Thing. We’re allowed to grow our own and gift to friends. Although the argument that you grew your own won’t hold up in court for another month or 2 (takes at least 3 to grow a plant) it definitely could have been gifted

    • Grizzly Adams

      Quebec prohibits home growing

  • Dmember

    Sounds a little bogus to me. Why would anyone with legal goods of any kind in their car worry about having receipts for everything they’ve bought? A cop can’t arrest anyone for possessing a legal amount of cannabis any more than they can arrest them for possessing a legal amount of groceries/clothes/whatever. Yes, it’s wise to keep your receipts for cannabis, but not necessarily with you at all times. Try to remember…cannabis is…legal.

  • Mark B Davison

    LOL what the hell is this the Onion website what a bullshit article. So suppose you are walking through town doing your thing and a cop stops you for no reason and asks to search you now being a educated citizen you tell that cop to fuck off. Now say they search you anyway and violate your rights and in doing find a little bit of cannabis and they want to know if it’s legal you tell them you grow your own 4 plants and again tell them to fuck off. Please hire new writers the ones you have now suck really bad.

    • Greg Bezoff

      Except that home growing is illegal in Quebec so you just confessed to a crime.

  • TheGuyWhoCares

    This article is alarmist by not mentioning THIS IS ONLY APPLICAPLE IN THE PROVINCES THAT DISALLOW HOME GROWING. At least the situation regarding the lack of proof of purchase/legality. If they had a federal certification to grow medically, and under their prescription limit to carry, they have a good case. In all provinces the limits to carry do come into play though… so watch that. Also, I don’t recommend anybody travel through or into Quebec as long as the gestapo are in power…

  • redtruck710

    Problem is, here in the Los angeles area, dispensaries never give you a receipt for your purchase.

  • Robert Gerus

    Unlike the USA, Canada does not have cops that bother you for just walking down the street at least where I live in small town Ontario. But I guess in places like Toronto or Ottawa or big cities it might be different like in the black communities it was called carding, but I think it was stopped, maybe not, where there’s lots of murders of blacks, who cares. Black lives matter problems if they can’t solve, why should the cops. Anyway back to being stopped or detained unlike america we comply it’s easier then the bullshit you see on YouTube where americans spue off about their rights as americans, when the cops ask for ID and want to know what your doing in a certain area, unless you have something to hide. Americans will go on and on and on about,,, Am I being detained, am I free to leave and not show their ID, and half of them don’t have ID real strange and stupid. here in Canada our cops are more educated in law enforcement, On YouTube you see a lot of DUMB cops in America that don’t even know the law. WHY???? Thank god for Canadian cops at least where I live in York Region they are super, sure in all forces we have bad cops too but in York we have the best. Besides being old now they kind of respect older people, because we respect them. But as for cannabis it’s all new here and it won’t be available till next April in whatever stores the Government is still in the air about that. But I never got stopped when I always carried it been smokin it for years but always at home, never on the road, it’s like drinking called common sense, if your an alcoholic and you drink and drive your dangerous to everybody and deserve jail, they should also take your car and squish it. that’s my opinion who needs you on the road same with stoners, stay home.

  • Harmony Rose Lane

    Good to know, sorry for those arrested. What a nightmare. I’m legally licensed since a month ago in my state of the USA, for chronic pain, 5 years. I took a half-puff of a new strain to me in a small glass pipe, immediately began gasping for breath, writhing on the sofa. My eyes closed and I was straining to get air. My family called paramedics, told the truth, and was manhandled by them en route to hospital. Doctors treated me like “just another middle-aged suburban white girl stoner”. I was stripped naked, given a catheter for a toxicology test. Since I had cannabinoids in my system, which I told them while gasping I took a half-puff, I am licensed, look up the registry, told them the dispensary, Google it. My diagnosis was MARIJUANA ABUSE. My doctor has asked the hospital to change the diagnosis to anaphylactic shock. I also have CIRS, so this nightmare keeps repeating in my brain like a car wreck, over and over. I was treated like a drug addict. Although my state has a Legal Medicinal Marijuana Commission, most doctors are completely unaware, hence being manhandled like a drug addict. Best to keep my mouth shut.

  • Here in WA state they don’t actually give receipts. It’s a cash only business but I suppose one could get one if they asked, I don’t know.

    • TweetyBird

      Arizona is a cash only state too but I always get a receipt, with my name and card # on it. But then, we’re a medical only state, so maybe that’s the difference?

      • It could be. It’s legal for all here

    • Josh Clark

      mmm, you should be able to ask for a receipt. i would not shop at a dispo that will not give you a receipt of sale, cash or otherwise.

      • I’ve bought a lot of pot in a lot of different shops and can’t recall ever being offered a receipt

  • Dave Houghton

    Carrying too much on you will be challenged soon as it make no sense when total possession is over a pound, say I was moving my stash then what? Receipt for whaat , nutrients and soil ? I grow mine so?

  • viper643

    Last sentence is the best advice : ” keep your mouth shut.”

  • kloneman

    So you say your buddy gave it to you he grew it in Ontario case closed

  • Bramael gnome

    It would have been nice to know the amount exactly in excess that the fellow had above the legal 30 g. Over is over, but how much over?

    Take a picture of the receipt on your phone, they can trace that at least and it’s convenient.

    I’m a medical patient so I also carry in my glove box a photocopy of the forms my doctor has signed. In the last four years I’ve never been pulled over . it might be an experience though .

  • Mike Ciuman

    Oh they can slip into something more nice like oh a coma for weed come on lol laws can be so stupid

  • I know in OR they now accept debit cards. Not yet in my WA town though