Ruling in Quebec home grow appeal expected later this year

| David Brown

The lead attorney with the group fighting Quebec’s ban on growing cannabis at home says they and the government of Quebec have now presented their argument before the court of appeal, and are awaiting a ruling. 

Although it could come sooner, Maxime Guérin, the lead attorney for the case with Groupe SGF, the law firm that took on the case, says a ruling is likely to come in the next three to six months. 

The appeal comes after SGF’s lawyers, representing Quebec resident Janick Murray Hall, successfully argued that Quebec’s ban on allowing residents to grow cannabis at home was in violation of federal law. The judge in that case ruled against the provincial government’s ban, but the province quickly appealed the ruling, meaning their law stayed in place, pending appeal. 

This means that currently, Quebec residents can be fined $750 per plant if found to be growing cannabis unless they are doing so with a medical authorization through their physician and Health Canada. 

Guérin says he had his team present their arguments in front of three judges on Tuesday, rebutting the Quebec government’s assertion that the previous judge had erred in her decision. The entire hearing took about two to three hours, and the three judges will now consider the arguments before coming to a ruling, potentially sometime later this year. 

The argument can then be appealed only one more time, in the federal Supreme court. If Quebec loses, Guérin says his team will absolutely appeal and expects the Quebec government to do the same. 

Although he says he and his team are relatively confident in their argument that the province cannot completely ban homegrown cannabis, he says it’s always an unknown how the court will rule. 

“The government is fighting the inevitable, so I would be very surprised if the Quebec court of appeals went against the first judgement,” he explains. “But it’s Quebec, we always have that thing in our head called independence and sovereignty in our territory, so we might get a surprise and hear the court of appeals say this is Quebec’s right to do it. We would then take this to the Supreme Court because for us it’s unacceptable to know that Canadians can do it everywhere except here and Manitoba. It just doesn’t work in our mind.” 

Pointing to the federal government’s own statements when the issue was debated in the House and Senate in 2018, Guérin says the precedent is there that provinces can put restrictions on homegrown cannabis, such as BC’s ban on plants being visible to the public, and could even potentially limit the number of plants they can grow beyond the federal limit of four, but that banning them entirely goes against the spirit of the Cannabis Act and its Regulations and is therefore out of the scope of provincial authority. 

“The (Health) Minister clearly stated during the debate that they reject any demand of a province to ban that right, and with that in mind I have no choice to continue to the end,” he continues. “I don’t understand why the Quebec government is fighting it. Here in Quebec we are kind of stuck with the fact that we have those people going against cannabis smokers.” 

In addition to his role with Groupe SGF, Guérin is also a shareholder at the first micro in Quebec MINDIcanna.

Another lead counsel who argued in the original case was hired last year by the Quebec government’s cannabis branch, the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC).

Manitoba’s own homegrow ban also being challenged

Meanwhile, a challenge to the other Canadian province that banned homegrown cannabis is in the works of being challenged as well. Jesse Lavoie, who is leading the challenge to the Manitoba homegrown cannabis ban, filed affidavits earlier this year and hopes to be in court later this year to formally challenge the ban.

Lavoie launched his challenge of Manitoba’s section 101.15 of the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act last September. The government’s own affidavit, filed in response last year, focuses on what they say is a risk to youth and others if people can grow their own cannabis, risk of diversion to the illicit market, risk to property, quality control concerns, and the difficulty of enforcing plant limits. 

Lavoie’s own affidavits in response to Manitoba’s, filed today in Manitoba court, aim to address these concerns and rebut them, utilizing the input from their own team of experts. The government will then have a few weeks to respond again and this process can play out until possibly the end of this year before they see court.

“This is a legal battle between closed-minded thinking and progress,” says Lavoie.

“I think we’ll see victory. It’s backed by a lot of evidence in our favour and I’m not seeing a lot of support on the other side. It’s just unfortunate that we have to take this long to get through this process and spend this much.”

Lavoie says he’s spent about $45,000 to get the case to come to this, with some help from a GoFundMe campaign he started last year that has brought in about $9,000 so far.