First legal purchase of cannabis made in Newfoundland and Labrador
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 16, 2018 9:56PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 17, 2018 9:08AM EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Ian Power made sure he was first in line on a chilly October night to make a midnight purchase that will likely cement his place in Canadian history.
Outside one of the cannabis shops in St. John's, N.L., that were set to open at 12 a.m. local time on Oct. 17th, the 46-year-old knew exactly what he planned to do with his first legally purchased gram.
"I'm having a plaque made with the date and time and everything. This is never actually going to be smoked. I'm going to keep it forever," said Power.
"Who else gets to be first to help ring in the end of prohibition?"
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.
Cars drove by honking their horns, a few shouting "Happy Cannabis" at the excited crowd.
Across the country, recreational cannabis can now be purchased legally, with stores opening to excited customers for the first time on Wednesday.
But Newfoundland and Labrador's unique position, with a time zone 30 minutes ahead of the rest of Atlantic Canada, made the night extra special for buyers like Power.
He said he's excited for the stigma around cannabis use and the "stupid stoner" image to change, and for those historic changes to begin in Newfoundland.
"It feels great to have it happen in my home town," Power said.
"A lot of things first happen on the mainland ... but to have it happen in St. John's? That's epic."
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.
Tara O'Reilly, another customer who lined up for the big day, said she doesn't use cannabis personally but she came out to be a part of the historic moment.
"I'm looking forward to buying it and having it as a memory of tonight," she said.
Bruce Linton, CEO of Tweed's parent company, Canopy Growth Corp., flew out to make the first sale at the St. John's location -- and he landed on the island 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.
One of those cannabis crusaders was Thomas Clarke, a long time advocate for legalization who also planned to open his store, Thomas H. Clarke's Distribution, at midnight in the rural community of Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, N.L.
Clarke has been selling cannabis for over two decades, and said he wrote in his high school yearbook that his ultimate dream was to open a pot shop in Amsterdam.
The small business owner planned to make the first sale to his father.
"You know, I'm living my dream. Teenage Tom is really happy," Clarke said.
"It's even better to be able to do it at home and feel like I was an integral part of getting us to this place. It's very satisfying."
Back on Water Street, 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.
The dramatic legal and policy shift also 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.
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.
The chief executive of Ontario-based licensed cannabis producer Aphria Inc., Vic Neufeld, last week warned that there would be "sold out" signs due to supply chain issues plaguing every licensed producer. He expected the shortages at Aphria to last up to three months.
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 Armina Ligaya in Toronto