TORONTO — High demand for recreational cannabis across Canada in the first hours of legalization drew lineups at brick-and-mortar stores and technical glitches on some online websites.
Government-run and privately-operated sales portals went live at 12:01 a.m. local time across Canada, eliciting a wave of demand that resulted in a virtual lineup at Alberta’s e-commerce portal.
At 12:07 a.m. local time, the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission tweeted: “You like us! Our website is experiencing some heavy traffic. We are working hard to get it up and running.”
Meanwhile, the Ontario government’s website OCS.ca — the only way to buy cannabis legally in Ontario until physical stores open in April next year — was running smoothly, but the number of dried cannabis products listed online had shrunk by Wednesday morning.
Canadians across the country woke up to legalized recreational cannabis this morning, marking a seismic shift in drug policy and making Canada one of the few countries around the world to do so.
Some hardy Newfoundlanders stayed up late Tuesday to witness a moment in national history.
“I’m having a plaque made with the date and time and everything,” Ian Power, who was first in line outside a St. John’s cannabis shop that opened at 12 a.m. local time, said after his purchase.
“This is never actually going to be smoked. I’m going to keep it forever.”
There were early lineups outside brick-and-mortar stores in Nova Scotia, next in line after Newfoundland and Labrador as legalization worked its way across the country’s time zones.
Among those waiting outside a Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation outlet selling cannabis in Sydney River, N.S., was fiddler and pop star Ashley MacIsaac.
“I don’t need to be a criminal anymore, and that’s a great feeling,” said MacIsaac, who in 2001 had been arrested for possession in Saskatchewan. “And my new dealer is the prime minister!”
Newfoundland and Labrador’s unique position, with a time zone 30 minutes ahead of the rest of Atlantic Canada, made Tuesday night extra special for buyers like Power.
The wind and cold didn’t deter a few hundred people from lining up around the block at the private store on Water Street, the main commercial drag in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital.
Cheers went up inside the stylish, roomy Tweed location as Power and Nikki Rose, another St. John’s resident, made their transactions at the stroke of midnight.
Bruce Linton, CEO of Tweed’s parent company, Canopy Growth Corp., flew out to make the first sale at the St. John’s location — landing just in time after a nasty storm delayed his flight.
Linton said he was excited to tender the first sale at the Tweed store across from a provincial courthouse, where countless cases over the years have dealt with cannabis-related charges.
The Canopy founder said he’s looking forward to the next steps in cannabis research and the developing public conversations around the substance, noting that the first sales are the result of years of advocacy work.
“This is a marked day, but this has been a six- or seven-year build and a whole bunch of people who shouldn’t be forgotten,” Linton said.
Another Water Street store, The Natural Vibe, opened to slightly less fanfare than Tweed, but a line of customers still stretched down the street, with some saying waiting in line was “akin to Disney World.”
Most adult Canadians are now able to buy and use recreational cannabis legally and grow it at home, but how and where depends where they live.
The patchwork of regulations governing marijuana varies between provinces and territories, and some municipalities also have the option of adding their own rules or opting out of retail sales altogether.
Smoking or vaping of cannabis is allowed in public places where tobacco is permitted in many provinces or territories, but others such as Manitoba have a ban on public consumption.
Many Canadians of legal age are also able to grow their own cannabis plants at home — no more than four in most places — but some provinces such as Quebec have chosen to ban personal cultivation.
Cannabis legalization has implications for many other facets of Canadian society, ranging from law enforcement and testing for cannabis-impaired drivers to corporate policies governing consumption restrictions for certain industries such as air travel.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada is ready to give up an old system that did not protect young people or communities from organized criminal involvement in the marijuana trade.
There is expected to be a massive market for legal sales in Canada — as much as $4 billion in the first year, according to a report from consultancy Deloitte.
The number of stores that will open Wednesday remains unclear, but there could be as many as 100 brick-and-mortar government-run or privately operated locations, depending on whether they pass final inspections or get product shipments in time. But that’s a relatively small amount to serve the entire country, while a populous province like Ontario won’t have any brick-and-mortar stores until next spring.
Cannabis products such as dried flower, pre-rolled joints and accessories are available for purchase online and in-store, but edibles won’t be legal until sometime in 2019.
Whether the selection of cannabis products, and pricing, will be enough to entice existing cannabis users away from the illicit market remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, industry players and watchers have said to expect product shortages at the outset.
Licensed producers have been ramping up cannabis production and retailers have been gearing up for months, but both say it has been a compressed timeline for such a complicated endeavour.
Think-tank C.D. Howe warned in a report last week that current supplies of cannabis in the fourth quarter would only meet between 30 and 60 per cent of total demand, but said this would be “short-lived” as more producers are licensed and production capacities expand over time.
Canada needs to “take a deep breath” as U.S. states such as Colorado and California did not have a seamless system at the outset either, said Cam Battley, chief corporate officer for licensed producer Aurora Cannabis.
“We need to remember that this is the start of something, not the end of something…. It’s going to take awhile to iron out all the wrinkles.”
— with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s and Michael Tutton in Halifax
Armina Ligaya, The Canadian Press