Beware when shopping for cannabis online
VANCOUVER -- It's legal, and now you can buy it anywhere. But if during the pandemic you started ordering pot – like everything else—online, you may have run into some problems.
That's what happened to one Port Alberni man, who asked McLaughlin On Your Side not to identify him. He'd ordered cannabis online before, and decided to try Hello Ganja, a site based out of the United States.
The site offered a 25 per cent discount on larger orders.
"I noticed if I bought bulk I could get a fairly decent price, but of course that costs more," he told CTV News.
So the man ordered thousands of dollars' worth of cannabis from the company, expecting it to be shipped to his home. But the package never showed up at his door.
"It looked good, it looked legitimate," he says. "Which is why I got blindsided by this one."
McLaughlin On Your Side reached out to Hello Ganja, but has not received a response.
But he may have dodged a bullet. It's illegal to ship cannabis using the US Postal Service, and is a criminal offence here in Canada to try to bring it across the border. The person receiving the package could face criminal charges.
Many other buyers have also had problems with online cannabis sales. The Better Business Bureau received over 75,000 complaints about online weed sales across North America this year alone. That's compared to 50,000 for all of last year.
Many of the local complaints were about Canadian Hemp Co.
"The company has not had a good rating (and) the consumers have been sending complaints," says Karla Laird, with the Lower Mainland BBB. "They made purchases, haven't received what they've ordered and have had trouble communicating with the company to get a status update."
The Canadian Hemp Co. website says the company is based in New Westminster, so McLaughlin On Your Side went to take a look – and it wasn't there. Instead, we found Belle Ame Beauty, a salon that opened during the pandemic.
"We have people coming in here and asking to buy cannabis and we don't offer cannabis here at all," manager Jeanne Chan said with a laugh. "We offer lash extensions, or waxing, or beauty treatments."
And Canadian Hemp Co. also isn't licensed, which Laird says can be a health hazard.
"There's nothing holding them accountable to the quality or even the quantity of what is that you're supposed to be receiving," she says.
McLaughlin On Your Side reached out to the company for comment on the complaints, but has not yet heard back.
So what should you be looking for if you want to shop for cannabis online?
First, make sure the company is regulated. You can do that by checking the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch website. In British Columbia, only BC Cannabis Stores can ship you cannabis - private stores can provide click and collect, but can't send you products through the mail.
If you're shopping for medical cannabis, that's regulated federally.
If it's outside of B.C., check the company's address and see if they're really there. Next, call any contact numbers provided on the site and ask questions.
Go over the website with a fine-toothed comb. Does it look professional? Lots of typos and a confusing layout could be a warning sign.
You can also compare the site's prices against other retailers. If the prices are really low or steeply discounted, they're probably too good to be true.
And last, look into the history of the company – check the Better Business Bureau and Google for any complaints from dissatisfied customers.
The Port Alberni man who lost thousands of dollars to the American site paid by email money transfer and hasn't been able to get that money back, even though his credit union flagged it as a suspicious transaction. If you want to shop with confidence, use your credit card. It offers another layer of protection and you can dispute charges if anything suspicious comes up. Email money transfers and debit payments don't have the same protections – they could leave you out of luck and out of pocket.