Jimmy’s Cannabis, which opened in Cranbrook last week, has been asked by the RCMP to remove an image of Sam Steele they have in the window due to copyright infringement.
Sam Steele is an important figure in western-Canadian history. At 16 he formed a militia to fight the Fenian raids, before joining the North-West Mounted Police in 1873, the year it formed. He helped provide order in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush, settled tensions between the Ktunaxa people of the Kootenays and local settlers and served as a commanding officer of Strathcona’s Horse during the Boer War.
All cannabis retailers are required by law to prevent onlookers from being able to see into the store, usually by some form of glazed and opaque glass. Owner Jeff Weaver said the look was not very inviting, and — as a self-proclaimed history buff — opted instead to put up graphics that depict the heritage of the local area.
Weaver will have shops in Castlegar, Creston and Rossland, and all the stores will feature historical images both inside and out. The rustic interiors of the stores feature woodwork from local carpenters, and they’ll be adorned with heritage photographs.
“I wanted someone that to me was a little bit less controversial funnily enough,” Weaver explained, “because Colonel James Baker and his dealings with the Ktunaxa people is a little bit tricky. I thought Sam Steele, to me, is not just part of the fabric of Cranbrook but also illustrative of where we are in legalization where I actually see law enforcement now as a partner in this legalization project.”
Weaver said he not only has a deep reverence for the history of Steele, he believes that he is a symbol of compromise — part of his legacy involves resolving tensions between the local settlers and the Ktunaxa in the late 19th century.
“While I can understand certain individuals seeing that as maybe not how they would like Sam Steele to be used, and I’m still open to that conversation, at no point in time did i see this as anything other than a tribute to the RCMP and to Sam Steele’s legacy.”
On opening day, Weaver said a local RCMP officer came into the store. Through what he described as an extraordinarily friendly and respectful exchange, the officer asked that he remove the image, and Weaver initially agreed. However, after further consideration, he wants to continue the conversation.
“The most important thing for me is to have a good relationship with our local law enforcement,” Weaver said, “and if that in the end does not mean that Sam Steele can’t stay in our shop I’m open to that conversation, but I’d like to have it first.”
The Cranbrook RCMP declined an interview, however, a statement said images of the RCMP uniform are copyrighted.
“Cranbrook RCMP recently became aware of concerns raised that a local business was displaying an image portraying the iconic uniform of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) and in turn the RCMP. Local officials took steps to confirm the images use was in breach. A representative from the local detachment spoke personally with the business owner and as a result he/she agreed to remove the photo.
“The owner of the business was not aware that the RCMP uniform is trademarked and a such cannot be used without the expressed permission of the national police force. The continued use of the image could be taken as an endorsement of the RCMP for that commercial entity, which we are precluded from doing. No orders were given, it was simply a conversation, which resulted in an agreement to have the image removed.”
Weaver said he is under the impression that the uniform Steele is wearing in the image is a military uniform from his service in the Boer War, complete with his Victoria Cross medal, rather than an RCMP uniform.
Weaver also suspects that the controversy may go beyond the issue of trademark, he thinks it could be more to do with the nature of his business, adding that he’s not using the image to sell anything, or using the image in combination with a logo or symbol of any kind.
“I think there was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction at first because I know things went straight to Ottawa,” Weaver said. “I would like to hear a little bit more from the RCMP as to why they feel that, because I don’t think it’s a trademark issue to be honest. I don’t think there’s any legal grounding for that, and I’ve not received an official response from them. So what I would like to hear from them is just why; is there another reason that they feel that his image should not be used in this way? Because I don’t feel that we’ve used him in a disrespectful manner whatsoever.”
Weaver believes that this could be due to residual stigma surrounding cannabis use despite its recent legalization. He feels that if a store selling widgets, shoes or even beer were to use the same image, there wouldn’t be a problem. He also pointed out the fact that Cranbrook’s only adult entertainment nightclub is located in the Sam Steele Inn.
“If my image had a pot leaf on his forehead or somehow treated him disrespectfully I’d understand but I just can’t help but feel this is more to do with the fact that we’re a cannabis shop,” Weaver said. “He is just below our sign and I think that can be tough to digest for some people but I honestly do believe that in six months to a year it will be normalized enough that people won’t see it in that light.
“I also just think that people need to eventually understand that there’s a lot of people who use this product that they know already and maybe they didn’t know use it and we’re people just like everybody else.”
Weaver reiterated that he will take the image down immediately if he is officially ordered to remove it.
“I am not interested in coming across as disrespectful to this old institution of the RCMP that keeps us safe,” Weaver said. “I just am open to a conversation about it and if it needs to go any further. I’m not sticking it in their face, I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I do feel very strongly about him. I didn’t just pick him out of the blue to throw him on the store, I did my research.”
Further complicating this matter for Weaver is that removing and replacing the sticker could be a problem due to the cold weather.
“We were rushing to get [the stickers] on the store and get open in time, because those stickers are only adhesive in certain temperatures,” Weaver said. “Once you go subzero you can’t get anything to stick back on there and we’d have to use a material that doesn’t let any light in and really effects our natural light.”