Shopify cracking down on online Canadian cannabis seed stores

Several online seed retailers in Canada using Shopify to power their shopping cart/checkout system for online sales have received notice from the company

Some Canadian cannabis seed sellers using Canada-based Shopify to power their payment systems online say they have recently received letters from the company asking them to demonstrate they are authorized to sell cannabis seeds in Canada.

J, of the website Jordan of the Islands, who only gave his name as "J", says the company received an email notice on Oct 31st asking them for documentation to prove they are authorized to sell cannabis seeds. J says he’s not surprised by the move, and hopes to have their website operational again by this weekend.

It’s hardly a surprise, I’m sure we’ll start getting cease and desist orders or fines too," says J. "Maybe it’s the legal attention we need for Canadians to finally realize that cannabis seeds are illegal, now more than ever before. Our site will be back up by Sunday.”

Another retailer, who apparently runs JAHSeeds.ca, recently posted to social media to share a similar experience. JAHSeeds.ca is currently in operation, although it appears to no longer be using Shopify for payments. The owners of the website were unavailable for comment at press time.

Shopify is a Canadian e-commerce company headquartered in Ottawa, which also offers retailers a computer software platform for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems. Numerous companies use Shopify to power their shopping cart/checkout system for online sales.

No one at Shopify was available for comment at press time, although an employee answered a question on a Shopify message board about selling cannabis seeds in the US by stating that such activities are only permitted if done from a state that has legalized cannabis. Editor's Note: Sheryl So, PR and Corporate Communications for Shopify now says that "any store that is not a licensed producer in Canada will be served a notice."

Cannabis seeds are not legal in Canada unless purchased from a Health Canada-approved licensed producer (only two currently sell seeds to authorized patients, with another 9 selling clones). Despite this, there are numerous online seed retailers operating in Canada, often without much input from authorities. One seed retailer, 420 Kingston, was raided earlier this year by local police and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

According to media at the time, a spokesperson for CBSA said that the investigation was related to the illegal importation of goods. A post on 420 Kingston’s Facebook said the CBSA seized all of their seed products. Earlier this year Crop King Seeds, a well known cannabis seed retailer in Canada, quietly announced changes in ownership to best navigate what they saw as increasing enforcement of these laws.

In addition to Jordan of the Islands, at least two other small Canadian cannabis seed shops powered by Shopify are also currently not available, including marijuanaseedsdepot.com and stonetoolseed.com.

In an interview with Lift earlier this year, Rebecca Ambrose of the Vancouver Seed Bank, a store in downtown Vancouver that specializes in cannabis seeds, said the lack of legal clarity around the product can be challenging.

“I think the biggest issue right now is potentially over-regulation, and the general public being confused as to what the laws actually are right now,” said Ambrose. “The most common misconception that I hear that is really frustrating is that cannabis seeds are not illegal. But they are, in fact, very, very illegal. Even though people are not necessarily being arrested every day or charged with seed possession every day, just having seeds is technically illegal, so growing seeds and the supply and everything that comes with trying to produce seeds is still very much on the black market.

“As much as we try to act as a legal retail store and people treat us like a legal retail store and we pay GST and PST and payroll taxes like a legal store, under the eyes of the law we’re not legal. So we’re still subject to fines, our suppliers are still subject to jail time, so it is still a very black market business because we still have to go to the black market for our stock and supply.

“And that’s really annoying. We would love to take Visa and MasterCard, but we get shut down constantly by them. And it’s difficult importing—stuff gets taken away. My passport’s been flagged now because people sent seeds in my name. There’s a lot of barriers in general that people are not aware of that make the business really hard. And then there’s the issue of regulations to the point where these seeds might not be available any more unless it’s through licensed producers. And that would definitely make the situation even worse.”

Featured image by Avriette.

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6 comments

  1. Maxcatski Reply

    We had a nice little black market going on in seed sales in Canada. This is a great resource for those who wish to grow their own cannabis. Hopefully, legalization will not spoil our access to worldwide genetics.

    As I have said previously, the easy way around this is to simply legalize the seeds. There are no cannabinoids in seeds. Once the Cannabis itself is legal, how can seeds be a big deal? We need to get our heads on straight with this legalization thing.

    Keep practicing Civil Disobedience until the government lets the market accommodate the consumer's wishes.

  2. Jason Reply

    I posted this to Reddit and run JAHSeeds.ca (Justahandful.ca / justahandfulseeds.com).
    After receiving the notification of being shut down, it is interesting to note that when contacting Shopify customer support through another email address, I was told it was perfectly legal and allowable to sell Cannabis seeds. They even offered me an additional free week of hosting. I of course took a screen shot of this and sent it to their legal department.
    Additionally, I did send them my ACMPR paperwork...and since authorized as a designated grower, I am legally allowed to sell Cannabis (albeit only to one individual). What was handled unprofessionally was that my ACMPR paperwork was apparently visible to all employees, meaning regular call-centre customer support agents could see all the details of my legal grow...

    1. Maxcatski Reply

      Why send them your ACMPR certificate at all, Jason? There is nothing there to support legal seed sales. This is very interesting but I am puzzled.

      1. Jason Reply

        Their email asked for paperwork stating I was authorized to sell cannabis in Canada (as provided in the example above). Designated growers are allowed to sell to the person they are designated to grow for, therefore I gave them what they asked for. What they should have requested was a proof of Licensed Producer status; not very concise with wording for a 'legal team'.
        In the ACMPR paperwork, there is also nothing stating one CANNOT grow seeds. We have to stay within our plant limits...our storage limits...etc. We purchase our starting materials from an LP, then we are free to either clone or create seeds from those starting materials as we choose.
        Also, they are extending this policy beyond just our borders. Rockymountainseedbank.com, based out of Colorado, also got shut down.

        1. Maxcatski Reply

          Now I understand, Jason. It's too bad Shopify didn't accept your certificate.

          Your seed prices are excellent, by the way. I prefer feminized seeds but I love those old school genetics like your Island Sweet Skunk. Thank you for the very affordable pricing of $2.00 a seed.

          Keep up the good work, Jason. I will be in touch.

  3. Phil Reply

    Sad news...
    I found a great site for breeders and pheno hunters to connect some months ago...
    might a be a relevant alternative... for as long as they can operate...
    What do you think of http://www.strainly.io ?