Hamilton

'It's about frickin' time': First legal cannabis store opens its doors in Burlington

The Fairview Street location boasts 4,600-square-feet of retail space, a number operator David Nguyen says makes it the biggest store currently open in the country.

Balloons spelling 'FINALLY' floated inside the store, a sentiment echoed by customers

Gord Nichol shows off some of the products he bought inside RELM Cannabis Co., in Burlington on April 1. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

A line of customers snaked outside of RELM Cannabis Co. in Burlington early Monday morning, the shoppers eagerly waiting up to an hour for it to open on the first day of legal retail pot sales in Ontario. 

The Fairview Street location boasts 4,600-square-feet of retail space, a figure operator David Nguyen says makes it the biggest store currently open in the country.

It's also one of only nine stores across the province that managed to meet the government's April 1 deadline — making it the only location in the Halton and Hamilton area that's open for business.

"It feels great," said Nguyen. "We wanted to be first, or one of the first, because … this is making history being first in Ontario."

Dozens of customers lined up outside RELM Monday as the province's first legal cannabis stores opened their doors. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Inside the store was packed with customers speaking to staff about different strains and products.

Nguyen said he was going for an "Apple-store look" that offers buyers a clean, sleek, organized experience.

The interior is well-lit with bright, white walls. Black and white menus were posted on screens hanging from the wall, but the cannabis was kept behind brown wooden cabinets staff unlocked to serve those waiting for their purchases.

Golden party style balloon letters spelled out "FINALLY" against a back wall.

That sentiment was echoed by several customers who came through the doors of one of the province's long-awaited storefronts.

'Giddy' customers greet store

Linda Klein said she just came to get the lay of the land.

She's been using cannabis for years, but said her visit to RELM was aimed at learning a bit more about the types of products they offer. She plans to do some more research then come back to make some purchases.

Klein said she likes the idea of being able to shop in a physical location rather than just order online, and she expects other customers will too.

"I think it's a great idea. It's about frickin' time."

Gord Nichol was one of the first people through the doors.

He said staff were nice and knowledgeable and helped him pick out a hand full of products including a few pre-rolled joints.

"I have my cannabis preferences, but I went in there with an open mind, I just wanted to get a little sampler of the products because I haven't ordered anything from the OCS yet," he explained.

"I'm a little giddy. I can't wait to go home and try it."

Lower prices needed to combat black market

Nichols said he was left "completely impressed" by his shopping experience.

The only problem he can see is prices will have to drop in order for legal sales to compete with the black market.

Nichols said some of the products at RELM were in the range of $15 per gram. He says he'd like to $6 or $7 per gram.

Art Jackes shared the same concern.

A medical marijuana user from Oakville, he said legal storefronts like RELM will mean easier access to cannabis for recreational users that could drive prices down.

Jackes also noted buying from a government-approved outlet comes with its own positives.

"It's always a pleasure to have something you know what you're getting."

Staff at RELM were busy serving customers Monday. The cannabis products are kept in locked cabinets behind the counter. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The pickings were somewhat slim for wannabe cannabis customers across the province as less than half of the 25 stores the government had hoped would be open were ready as of April 1.

Nguyen said it was a challenge to sign a lease, complete construction, get inventory and hire staff within the tight deadline.

Getting ready even required him to call in contractors working on other jobs to be ready on time.

David Nguyen holds up the first receipt for legal cannabis purchased at RELM. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

He had an interesting time opening a bank account too.

"They all charge a premium because of the word cannabis, which I understand, it's a relatively new grey-area market industry and they're just being cautious."

Still, looking at the lineup of customers Monday, Nguyen said his hard work seems to be paying off.

"This is beyond my imagination. I'm ecstatic, it's crazy."

About the Author

Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca