Legal cannabis draws huge lineups as stores open in Calgary

About 250 pot enthusiasts bundled up against the cold and lined up outside one of Calgary’s two new cannabis retail shops early Wednesday morning, keen to be among the first customers on Day 1 of legal recreational cannabis in Canada.

2 retail locations open in city as recreational pot becomes legal in Canada

Customers queue outside 420 Premium Market on Wednesday morning to be among the first Canadians to legally purchase recreational cannabis. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

About 250 pot enthusiasts bundled up against the cold and lined up outside one of Calgary's two new cannabis retail shops early Wednesday morning, keen to be among the first customers on Day 1 of legal recreational cannabis in Canada.

Security and Calgary police were on hand for any necessary crowd control at 420 Premium Market as it got ready to open for business at 10 a.m. in a strip mall at 9737 Macleod Trail S.W. 

Amber Craig, the company's vice-president of marketing, said customers will find the Calgary store to be a high-end retail experience.

"We spent a lot of time on our design and our branding, so we're really proud of that," she said.

"I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they walk in."

The other retail outlet to open in Calgary so far is Nova Cannabis, at 10816 Macleod Trail South, which opened its doors at 10 a.m., by which time there was a lineup of about 200 people waiting to get in. 

It's owned by Alcanna Incorporated, an Edmonton-based, publicly traded company that operates Liquor Depot and Wine and Beyond stores in Alberta.

At least 10 more retail outlets in Calgary have been approved by the city and are awaiting the final go-ahead from Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC).

Alcanna Inc., which owns Nova Cannabis, released a statement saying the company is happy to be helping bring cannabis sales into the realm of legitimate business.

"Yesterday, and for decades before, criminals operating outside the law controlled 100 per cent of the recreational cannabis trade. Now, civil society begins to take back that activity through laws, regulations, quality controls and private enterprise that creates jobs and pays taxes," the company said.

'Heavy traffic' online

High demand for cannabis led to 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."

AGLC spokesperson Kaleigh Miller said the site didn't actually crash.

"So what was happening is people were being put into a queue. You were kind of put into a waiting room so it could process. At one point, we saw over 11,000 people in the queue at once," she said.

"After about five minutes or so, it was processing 200 orders every five minutes."

By 8:30 a.m., there had been more than 40,000 visits to the site. Several items, from dried flowers to oils, sold out in a matter of hours, Miller said.

Advice for new users

A neuroscientist at the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute said people trying cannabis for the first time should know a few things first.

"Definitely they should start with low-potency products, and use a small amount, wait a few minutes, see how it affects them and gauge it from there," said Dr. Matthew Hill.

He said if someone smokes or vaporizes cannabis, the high usually starts in three to five minutes and typically lasts three or four hours.

But Hill said it's different for edibles, which take longer to kick in and create a longer high.

At a public education rally outside of city hall Wednesday afternoon, a board member of a local cannabis club said legalization is a good first step but he has some concerns.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Patrick Parsons, who was one of about a dozen attendees at the rally.

"The problem is it still criminalizes a slightly larger amount of cannabis … they also want to fine people that are driving days after using cannabis."

And Wednesday evening, a cloud of smoke filled Olympic Plaza where hundreds gathered to celebrate legalization.

"Canada's a well-known G7 country, that's going to set a precedent for other countries. And I think that's incredibly important, we should be setting that precedent," said attendee Clark Foster. 

"It's important for people to realize that this is a minor thing that people enjoy and that people shouldn't be going to jail for it. I think people here are celebrating something that was wrong for a long time being righted."

Matt Zabloski, who leads the city's cannabis legalization project, reminded Calgarians the public spaces are not the place to light up. 

"The cannabis consumption bylaw carries with it a $100 fine for people who are consuming non-medical cannabis in public," he said.

Law enforcement officials kept a low profile at the event, and there was no word on whether officers handed out any tickets. Police said their priority was public safety.

Zabloski said Calgarians who have concerns about people consuming in public following legalization should call 311.

With files from The Canadian Press

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