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Why you won’t see vapes on store shelves in Ontario

Published on January 13, 2020 · Last updated July 28, 2020
dosist vaporizer pen
Jesse Milns/Leafly

Despite the introduction of 2.0 cannabis products in the country, such as extracts and edibles, Ontario consumers are unlikely to see any vaporizer products on store shelves, including cartridges, batteries, and disposable vapes.

It’s not all that bad, though, because consumers are still able to buy them.

Cannabis vaporizers, however, fall under a law that was originally enacted for non-cannabis e-juice vaporizers, making it unlawful to display any kind of electronic vaping device.

Neither cannabis vaporizers, their batteries, nor oil-containing cartridges can be displayed, viewed, or handled by customers before they’re purchased.

That means that while licensed retail stores across Ontario are free to display actual cannabis and accessories that promote arguably unsafe inhalation methods, such as bongs and pipes, they can’t display or let the customer handle any part of a vaporizer before purchase—whether for dried cannabis or pre-packed with cannabis oil.

That includes “e-substances” such as the cartridges that contain cannabis oil.

Further, the law also applies to the outer packaging of these products, requiring cannabis stores to treat them similar to packs of tobacco cigarettes, which must be hidden in-store.

That’s because of a law prohibiting the display of e-cigarettes in the province, one that has its roots in a 2015 legislative bill introduced by Kathleen Wynne that sought to limit the promotion of e-juice vapes to youth.

Here’s the thing: the bill was never intended to cover cannabis, or, at the very least, the debate in the province’s legislature at the time appeared to solely fixate on the type of vaporizers that contain nicotine and e-juice.

But because electronic cigarettes are defined so broadly in the legislation, they captured and continue to capture all cannabis vapes.

Since the law was put into effect a handful of years ago, headshops have been able to “promote” but not display their dried cannabis vaporizers for sale.

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Stores typically comply with the requirement by replacing the display or products with a document binder containing photos and descriptions of the vaporizer wares available for purchase.

But as of Jan. 1, 2020, any stores other than designated “specialty vape stores” and AGCO-licensed cannabis retailers can only conduct any vaporizer product promotions through such a document (like a binder) and are limited in the size and content of the signs they can use to advertise the products.

Cannabis retail stores are now in the position headshops used to find themselves in: they can promote vaporizers as they see fit, but cannot display them, their packages, or let customers view or handle them before purchase.

That’s despite the fact that by law, no one under the age of 19 can come into a cannabis store. Convenience stores and the like do not see this age-restriction.

On Jan. 8, one of the first days Ontario retailers began selling edibles and oil vapes to consumers as part of the 2.0 rollout, Leafly visited cannabis retail stores in downtown Toronto and saw at least one licensed store openly display packages of cannabis oil vape cartridges before purchase, and even openly displayed loose-leaf 510 cartridge batteries for purchase alongside them.

In terms of its dried cannabis vaporizers for purchase, the store had the binder instead, available for consumers to see pictures and stats of each vape. They did not extend the binder restriction to their cannabis oil-containing vape products.

Another downtown Toronto store appeared to be in compliance the same day.

This one had shelf space for the dried cannabis vaporizers they sell, but displayed photos of each unit instead of actual packages. Cannabis oil-containing vapes were nowhere to be found on the showroom floor, and customers had to ask budtenders about their options, which would be read out to them.

It doesn’t make much sense that cannabis stores are able to display cannabis as well as other accessories such as bongs and pipes that require harmful smoking, but can’t even show the packages of vaporizers that are arguably safer. And that’s on top of the fact that youth under 19 cannot legally enter cannabis stores anyway.

The provincial government could change the law with a simple regulatory amendment. That’s what they did in the first place to exempt licensed cannabis stores from vape “promotions” prohibitions but not from the provisions that prohibit their display on store shelves or pre-purchase handling.

So if you don’t see any cannabis vaporizers on the shelves of your local Ontario cannabis store—don’t fret.

Ask if they have any for sale before you leave empty-handed, because they just might have some—legally—hidden from view.

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Harrison Jordan
Harrison Jordan
Harrison Jordan is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and enjoys reading and writing about the regulatory affairs of cannabis in Canada and around the world.
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