Canadians welcome legal pot sales, put up with supply issues on opening day

There were no major hiccups reported in the first few hours of legal recreational marijuana sales at retail locations across Canada on Wednesday, though there were signs that supply could become an issue at both shops and online points of sale.

It appears Canadians will have to be patient before a full array of products are available

Hundreds of people lineup at a government cannabis store Wednesday, October 17, 2018 in Montreal as the legal sale of cannabis begins in Canada. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

There were no major hiccups reported in the first few hours of legal recreational marijuana sales at retail locations across Canada on Wednesday, though there were signs that supply could become an issue at both shops and online points of sale.

A mix of private and government-run shops opened across the country, offering a variety of products. Canada is the largest country to legalize recreational use — under various conditions.

Potential supply issues had been predicted. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries had warned of "substantially less cannabis than originally requested," and shortages for some products that could last months.

Bruce Linton, CEO of private supplier Canopy Growth Corp., told CBC News that there was too much unknown about the market right now to risk a glut of unused supply, while not yet being nimble enough to meet demand for the most popular products.

Public opinion surveys have indicated that price, variety and potency could also affect how Canadians ultimately take to the Liberal government's pot gamble, but Sean Malthouse, a customer in St. John's, predicted supply issues could be the biggest turnoff.

"These guys are running out of a lot of stuff here already and if that happens, people are going to go back — the dealers are never going to do away if you can't supply," he said.

Just like the post office

At the Tweed shop in St. John's, diehards showed up before midnight to take advantage of the two-hour window before the mandatory closure at 2 a.m. NT. The store estimated it sold about $9,000 worth of product in that window before reopening after sunrise.

The Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. also tried to temper expectations before the rollout, indicating not all products would be available. Joints and loose-leaf cannabis were on sale, with seeds and cannabis oil to come at a later date.

On Oct. 17, Canada became the largest country to legalize recreational pot. Here's how Canadians reacted across the country. 4:33

Ottawa has framed the liberalization of pot as a way to put a dent into the billions of dollars exchanged through the illicit market.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair allowed that the previous state of affairs "will not change overnight," but he said it was an important day.

"Illegal production and distribution remain serious criminal offences, but today for the first time there's competition in the marketplace," he said Wednesday.

"For the first time, adult Canadians who choose to consume cannabis have a safer, lower risk, healthier and more socially responsible choice."

Customers were enthusiastic about buying marijuana legally at the Delta 9 cannabis store in Winnipeg. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

Customers seemed to be willing to support that notion at the NSLC store in Halifax, with the lineup stretching down the street before doors opened. 

"It was pretty smooth," one customer told CBC News, as he purchased eight grams of cannabis on Wednesday morning. He likened the customer experience to getting a package at a Canada Post outlet.

Thumbs down on raising the age

In many instances, Canadians were, well, chill, about the dawning of a new era.

At one of the two locations opening in Quebec City, a lone teenage boy was the only one in line at 8 p.m. ET.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday the Cannabis Act would blunt the allure of an illegal product that can arise through a strict prohibition regime, saying it was easier for a teenager to gain access to a joint than a bottle of beer."

Quebec's incoming CAQ government has made noises about raising the age for consuming cannabis to 21, but Zachary Nichole, 18, said it would be counterproductive.

"What's the point? No other provinces are doing that," he said outside the SQDC store in Quebec City. "Those people will find ways to get it, whether it be here or their friends, so it's not the best idea."

While there were about 10 people lined up at the store on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal at around 6 a.m. ET, demand would soon swell, with a noontime lineup that ran for two blocks. The store was limiting entries to accommodate 25 people at a time.

'A day to celebrate'

There were five stores ready for business in Winnipeg and one in Dauphin, with others expected to be ready within the coming months in Manitoba. 

A look inside the Société québécoise du cannabis store on St-Hubert Street in Montreal before it opened. Lines were substantial outside the outlet on Wednesday morning. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

Green Party candidate and longtime cannabis advocate Steven Stairs had the first campsite in line outside Delta 9, a cannabis store in Winnipeg's St. Vital neighbourhood.

"It's definitely a day to celebrate the wins that we've accomplished with this social change movement," he said.

Nova Cannabis in Calgary literally rolled out a red carpet for the first customers.

Men, women and a dino

"It's been a lot of hard work and excitement building up to this," said Shelley Girard, vice-president of brand strategy development at Alcanna, parent company of Nova.

"The team's ready, we're excited and ready to meet some customers and help them select some cannabis today."

At the Nova Cannabis outlet at Whyte Avenue and Jasper Avenue in Edmonton, a considerable line formed well before opening. At least in the initial stages, CBC's reporter noted, the lineup was "99 per cent men."

A notable exception was Terri English, who dressed up in a dinosaur costume for the momentous occasion two weeks before Halloween, killing two birds with one stone.

"If you want to get in on history, you should probably be here first day," she said.

Stores: B.C. 1, Ontario 0

In British Columbia, all eyes were on Kamloops, the only municipality in the province to have a legal pot shop right now. The city's council left it late, granting the store its licence on Tuesday afternoon.

"I honestly thought that I was going to be a couple blocks back, but I was really shocked that I was the first person here" said Becky Prete, who arrived with a coffee and a camping chair just before 7:30 a.m PT.

There were about 85 strains of dried cannabis to begin with, as well as oils and capsules at the B.C. Liquor-run store, with the province evaluating dozens of applications from businesses for future bricks-and-mortar sale.

For now, those not heading to Kamloops and who want to avoid the grey market that exists in Vancouver and elsewhere can buy legally from the BC Cannabis Stores (BCS) site.

In the country's biggest province, the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) is the only place to legally purchase marijuana until at least April 2019. In August, the newly installed Conservative government under Ford announced it would scrap OCS locations and move toward a private retail system. 

Montreal reporters Benjamin Shingler and Sarah Leavitt answer questions. You can watch here:

Premier Doug Ford complained on Tuesday that the federal government had left provinces and police scrambling to adjust to the new reality of enforcement, though in a separate event this week the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police confidently stated, "police are ready," outlining the specialized training undertaken across the country.

Online glitches

Ontario customers noticed quickly that various brands and sizes of pot product were no longer available. In Manitoba, four of the six dried cannabis products displayed on site were not available, while on albertacannabis.org, cannabis oil and a handful of other products were sold out.

Shopify, the e-commerce company handling online sales for Ontario, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador, was confident ahead of the big day that sites could handle the traffic, and the glitches were certainly not on the order of website issues Canadians have experienced in the past at tax time, or Americans when  Affordable Care Act websites were rolled out.

Online websites, including that of Société québécoise du cannabis, occasionally required customers to exercise patience. (CBC)

Customers in Quebec and Alberta did report getting busy notices, the latter site's screen urging,"Hang tight — we'll get you in shortly."

While marijuana users welcomed the world of new choices now on offer, one Nova Scotia took a moment to reflect wistfully late Tuesday night while puffing.

She called the moment "bittersweet," and said pot had long brought people together in a "weird instant community," something that will likely change with legalization.