The sky didn’t fall. The Americans didn’t invade. Cats and dogs didn’t start embracing in the streets.
Unlikely as it seems, Canada’s first day as the world’s largest legal marijuana marketplace turned out to be pretty much just another day.
A bit hazier here, a bit giddier there, without doubt — but by nightfall, legalization was unfolding so smoothly there was even room for other news amid coast-to-coat cannabis coverage.
Buyers were able to vote with their feet in every province but Ontario and buy they did, lining up at newly unveiled bricks-and-mortar shops starting in Newfoundland, where at the stroke of midnight Ian Power, 46, become the first Canadian to possess a fully legal, fully taxed gram of marijuana. Powers, unlike most, said he had no intention of ever smoking his bounty, vowing instead to have it mounted on a plaque with the date and time. “I’m going to keep it forever.”
In Canada’s highest office, the man who made it all happen told reporters he has no plans to ever get high on recreational cannabis, despite having previously acknowledged smoking it a few times before.
Ontario may be the laggard on the national cannabis landscape — though online sales began at a frantic rate of 100 purchase a minute beginning at 12:01 a.m., no storefronts will open here until next April. Yet in a flurry of legislative activity Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford’s government passed legislation to regulate the new federal law, spelling out how and where Ontarians can buy and consume cannabis.
Although the Ford government has been criticized for loose consumption guidelines that will allow for cannabis use wherever cigarettes can be smoked, including public parks, the premier emphasized his intention to let municipalities fine-tune those rules as they see fit.
“Our number one priority is to make sure our children are safe, make sure we keep it away from schools, and make sure we let municipalities decide if they’re even going to sell it, where they can smoke it,” said Ford.
Under Ontario’s rules, the province’s 444 municipalities have until Jan. 22 to say yes or no to private bricks-and-mortar cannabis stores.
Toronto Mayor John Tory offered a note of caution in a statement to the city, saying, “For those who choose to use cannabis, I hope common-sense prevails. Don’t smoke marijuana and drive. Don’t smoke marijuana and go to work. Don’t be inconsiderate about where you’re smoking marijuana and don’t smoke it around where children are present.”
Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat, who is vying for Tory’s job in next Monday’s election, said she welcomed the Ottawa’s move to pardon past convictions for simple possession, saying that without amnesty “hundreds of thousand sof people would continue to feel the effects of outdated laws whose enforcement has had a disproportionate impact on people of colour and the poor.”
Keesmaat, noting concerns of residents about the impact of legal cannabis on neighbourhoods, said she would also support zoing amendments “to prevent numerous cannabis stores from clustering in proximity to each other and driving out neighbourhood businesses from our main streets.”
With the surge in legal online sales across the country triggering the flow of HST and excise tax dollars from the moment the government-run websites went live, Day One of legalization passed with one curious absence — no sign whatsoever of an expected crackdown on black and grey market sales. Dozens of illegal websites that had been operating for months with de facto impunity remained active — but for how long is anyone’s guess.
One high-profile medical marijuana activist, Chris Enns, told the Star it was “business-as-usual, another day like any other” at his Halifax dispensary, the Farm Assists Cannabis Resource Centre, where he remained open despite advance warning that he should expect police intervention. Though Nova Scotia has established a government monopoly on cannabis sales, the newly opened stores do not have the high-strength extracts that Enns has spent years providing for many of his patients, including people with cancer.
“The oils and extracts we have in stock are 750 per cent stronger than what the government stores have available — and we’re here to stand with our patients, to ensure they can get the medicine they require at the lowest possible price,” said Enns.
“I’m grateful on this day that our community of patients is telling us they’ll support us if we face prosecution. We have legal counsel on standby, we have prepared for plans A, B, C and D for whatever happens next. But at this moment, all is well. We’re open.”
At dusk, the Ontario Provincial Police sent a message of their own with a live online broadcast of a RIDE check timed to coincide with legalization. The live feed from the OPP was a palpable reminder that, although they don’t yet have a device that can measure cannabis impairment with the accuracy of an alcohol breathalyzer, the force has spent months undergoing upgraded training to detect impairment of any sort, including driving under the influence of cannabis.
Police in Winnipeg went one step further, tweeting a photo of the first-ever ticket, not for impaired driving but for Consuming Cannabis in a Motor Vehicle, issued Wednesday to to an unnamed driver who now must pay a fine of $672. “Just like alcohol, consuming cannabis is legal — and like alcohol, consuming it in your vehicle is not,” the Winnipeg police tweeted.
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney provided the day’s most surprising twist, announcing he will join the board of directors of a large American cannabis company, Acreage Holdings, when the company is added to the Canadian Securities Exchange in November.
“Obviously we’re on the cusp of an extraordinary period of development, utilization and need in this area,” Mulroney said in an interview with Marijuana Business Daily, suggesting that while Canada is the first major industrialized country to legalize, he expects others to follow.
“This seems to be an opportunity for redemption by governments towwards their citizens, on a par that is rarely equalled … so it’s a big day in Canada, but it’s also a big day for the rest of the world who are listening.”
Apart from street-level cannabis parties, much of Wednesday’s frivolity played out online, with meme after meme riffing on Canada’s one-time moment. One widely circulated gag typical of the mood showed a supposed satellite image of Canada after legalization, engulfed entirely in smoke.
Buzzkill, however, wasn’t far away, in the form of a tweet from the Ontario Cannabis Store late Wednesday that suggested the day’s business was just a little too good, resulting in a backlog of orders that could threaten its one-to-three day delivery pledge.
“The response to cannabis legalatization has resulted in a high volume of orders,” the government-owned retailer said. “Please expected your order to be delivered within one to five business days. We apologize for any inconvenience.”