On Oct. 17, legalization of recreational cannabis rolled out across the country and brought great bliss and some small parts of sorrow.
At five minutes after midnight, Ian Power became the first person in Canada to buy a gram of legal marijuana, leading a line of some 130 people outside the St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canopy Growth store.
“I think it’s one of the biggest moments of my life” said the happy marijuana consumer. “There’s a tear in my eye. No more back alleys,” he said, referring to the fact that he wouldn’t have to rely on the illicit market anymore for cannabis.
Then, at about 1 a.m., in Winnipeg, Manitoba, city police issued their first ticket during a traffic stop for consuming cannabis in a car. “An hour into legality, and something illegal,” said Winnipeg Police Service traffic division Inspector Gord Spado.
In Manitoba, motorists face fines of $672 for consuming marijuana in a vehicle. The Winnipeg police tweeted this warning: “Just like alcohol, consuming cannabis is legal—and just like alcohol, consuming it in your car is not.”
For its part, the Ontario Provincial Police took to Twitter to remind people that driving after consuming cannabis is still illegal—and that goes for medical and well as recreational marijuana. The provinces wanted to make clear that while cannabis is now legal, they’d crack down harder than ever on illegal uses, including raids on unlicensed dispensaries, which started almost immediately on Oct. 17.
Legal Cannabis Celebrations in Toronto
Despite the police warnings, Canada’s most populous city observed legalization day in fine style. Celebrations included one cannabis site that offered live music, a countdown and a “bud drop” at midnight. A Toronto head shop even held a “wake and bake” breakfast and end-of-prohibition party.
A large crowd of revellers also gathered in the city’s Kensington Market and Trinity Bellwoods Park to partake openly. Toronto police tactfully ignored the fact that none of the marijuana there could be legal. The province’s retail stores won’t open until April 2019, so in the meantime all cannabis sales must be done online with deliveries through the mail—and mail is never delivered in less than a day.
The Ontario Cannabis Store reported it received about 100,000 online orders in the first 24 hours that marijuana was legal in the province, with 1.3 million unique site visitors.
Online sales seemed to go smoothly, though customers noted that the government-run online shop made one blooper—mislabelling Fleur de Lune cannabis-infused spray meant for “intimate areas of the body” as a sublingual product.
Marijuana Already in Short Supply
Two things quickly became evident after the clock ticked down to Oct. 17:
- Legal marijuana would be very popular in Canada.
- The provinces and their suppliers would have trouble meeting demand. By noon on the first day in Ontario, for example, online sales had wiped out all available supply, except for one brand.
The situation was made worse for all legal online suppliers across the country by a series of rotating Canada Post strikes that threatened to delay shipments, sending retail owners scrambling to find other means of delivery.
On the West Coast, British Columbia (B.C.) was only able to open one store, in Kamloops, on legalization day. But the province’s online store recorded about 1,000 sales during its first hour of operation. Though shortly after 9 a.m., 48 of 97 available cannabis flower products were sold out.
Neighbouring Alberta was cited as being the province best prepared for cannabis legalization, with 17 stores opened on day one in Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat. Meanwhile, about 250 additional cannabis stores are scheduled to start business during the first year of legalization.
Even so, after four days of long lines and high demand, the cannabis stores began to run out of product. And some had to close their doors while waiting for resupply from the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission, which was largely tapped out.
Said one store owner: “It's a mess. The supply is just a mess.”
Such problems may get in the way of the federal government’s goal of eliminating the black market with legal cannabis. With supply running out, a lack of brick-and-mortar marijuana stores and complaints about high prices, illicit providers will continue to thrive until the authorities get their act together.
Preparing for a Cannabis Legalization Backlash
Federal and provincial politicians are watching the political landscape carefully, monitoring the size of the backlash against legalized marijuana. Andrew Scheer, the leader of the Conservatives, said that if his party wins the 2019 federal election they may revisit the decision to legalize marijuana.
In Alberta, United Conservative Party Culture and Tourism Critic Ron Orr moved the conversation into strange territory when he likened Canada’s cannabis legalization to the communist revolution in China and the problems it experienced coping with the opium trade. “The human tragedy of what’s going to happen with this has yet to be revealed,” said Orr ominously.
Despite Opposition, Governments Covet Legal Marijuana Revenue
However, it will be very hard for governments to give up legal marijuana as they become addicted to its profits.
Although sales numbers weren’t made available for all provinces, those that were are impressive. For example, Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, raked in $152,408.35 from online and retail cannabis sales on Oct. 17. The island’s population is only 153,244 people, so that’s almost $1 spent per person on cannabis in a day.
And it’s not just the government and suppliers who make money; secondary businesses are also prospering. In Edmonton, for instance, nine-year-old Girl Guide Elina Childs sold out of all of her cookies—roughly 30 boxes in 45 minutes—by targeting people lined up to buy legal marijuana.
“My dad asked me if I wanted to sell cookies and I said yes. So, we started selling cookies there and they sold out very quickly,” Elina said.
Only time will tell if the largely enthusiastic feelings about legal cannabis in Canada will continue.
Photo credit: Dank Depot