Blue Buddha, White Widow, Canuk Cookies, Cheese — Jacob Lloyd was selling them all. Not the actual cannabis, just the seeds, four for $40.
"We're actually the cheapest seeds on the market," boasted Lloyd from the Native Seed Co. booth at the Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo in May.
Is that legal? asked a reporter.
"Well technically you're not allowed to sell seeds," Lloyd conceded. "But we sell them as novelty. So as long as we say, 'This is novelty,' we're legal."
Each cluster of four seeds was nestled snugly in a plastic container, and each container was packaged with a "trading card" of sorts that identified the seed's key data: sex, genetic origin, flowering time, THC content and where to grow.
Lloyd said Native Seed Co., a family business, sells those seeds at about 60 cannabis trade shows every year, all across Canada.
But with Canada's cannabis laws changing, "we have no idea where this is going to go," he said.Advertisement
In the meantime, Lloyd wasn't worried about any legal consequences from selling seeds.
"I talk to cops all the time about it, They don't even know the laws," he said.
On the other side of the expansive Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Aurelia Vaillancourt was doing a booming business hawking marijuana seeds in packages of three, five and 10.
"They vary between $35, it could be up to $150 depending on the genetics and breeder," said Vaillancourt from the Xotic Seeds booth. "DJ Short Blueberry is $200 for 13 seeds."
"Seeds are sold as novelty," advised a sign on Vaillancourt's counter.
"I sell them like cards, collectibles," she said.
"We collect them, I collect them. I love them. Some of them are old races, so they do disappear. And some guys have great passion for it and they want it, even if they keep it in the fridge. Because cannabis is changing so quickly and we are starting to miss some of the genetics."
As long as she doesn't talk to her customers about actually germinating the seeds, Vaillancourt figures she's well within what she considers a "grey area" of the law. She anticipates things might change after legalization.
"It all depends on the government, because if they will not privatize selling seeds, or if there's a way of me registering, then I continue. If not, then I will have to shut down," she said.
Right now, the only lawful way for individual Canadians to possess cannabis seeds involves being registered with the federal government's medical marijuana program.
For everyone else, viable cannabis seeds remain a controlled substance under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Oddly enough, the CDSA doesn't explicitly ban cannabis seeds, instead scheduling the cannabis plant as a whole and making a legal exception for "non-viable seeds."
The late cannabis activist Ian Hunter tried to exploit that fact in court after a 1996 bust for selling cannabis seeds at his Victoria, B.C. shop Sacred Herb, but the B.C. appeals court ruled Parliament clearly intended to outlaw viable cannabis seeds as part of the plant.
With cannabis seeds still being bought and sold across Canada, the law clearly hasn't had much effect outside of a few high-profile cases.
"There have been seeds for sale in Canada for 20 years, with little, minimal enforcement," explains lawyer Kirk Tousaw, who specializes in cannabis-related law.
"And of course Marc Emery sold seeds for the better part of ten years openly at the store and via mail order, and ultimately it was the (U.S.) DEA that came and did him in, not Canadian authorities," he said.
More recently, activist Dana Larsen was arrested for giving out free cannabis seeds in Calgary in 2016. The charges were dismissed, and federal prosecutors ultimately dropped their appeal.
But even if charges for selling cannabis seeds are few and far between, the practice is still illegal, and the idea that the seeds can be legally sold as a "novelty" or a "collectible" would likely fail in court, Tousaw believes.
"I mean, if you're selling a pack of seeds that says, '45-day flowering period, eight-week harvest, grows big sticky buds,' for novelty purposes, I think that just factually, that dog won't hunt."
After the federal Cannabis Act comes into force, the legal landscape for cannabis seeds will change significantly. Cannabis seeds will be legal for possession by adults, with each seed considered equivalent to one gram of dried cannabis. That means adults will be limited to carrying no more than 30 seeds in public.
Only government-licensed companies will be allowed to produce and sell seeds after legalization, and seeds purchased illegally would technically remain illicit cannabis. But with no straightforward way for law enforcement to test which cannabis or cannabis seeds are licit and which are illicit, Tousaw believes that aspect of the law will be effectively unenforcable.
"If you've got some so-called illicit seeds and you grow them legally, can the police get a search warrant to come into your home on that basis alone? I don't think so," he said.
"I think that there's a whole chunk of this that's just window dressing, frankly. They're not enforcing this law now, they're not going to enforce it a year from now."
Ironically, the current legal restrictions on cannabis seeds have made it hard for even legal cannabis companies to obtain them.
Tousaw says licensed cannabis producers "basically have to buy it from other (licensed producers) who don't have exactly the interest in giving them the best stuff or the best strains or the most popular strains, because they're competitors."
"Or there's a process to try to import them, but I hear that that process is log-jammed and not very easy to access."
Post-legalization demand for new cannabis seeds has caught the attention of cannabis seed breeders from overseas. At the Lift & Co. expo, Spanish seed producer Sergio Martinez had come all the way from Barcelona to promote his brand to Canada's legal cannabis industry.
Martinez said his company BBG Projects currently produces seeds for more than 200 different strains of cannabis, which then get sold to seed banks and cannabis growers "almost worldwide." BBG's white label seeds are already being sold by third parties in Canada, Martinez said, although he specified he wasn't selling them personally.
"It's nothing I can do if somebody from Canada comes to Spain to buy my seeds and they bring them here."
Martinez said Canadian cannabis companies are lining up to buy his seeds, but with cannabis laws are changing fast, authorities haven't given enough consideration to where people can get the tiny kernels.
"They are not really thinking about the seeds," he said.
"They are not really thinking about how to — you have a licence to grow? OK, where do I get my genetics? It's so funny, isn't it?"