'Today, I'm not a criminal': Pot stores open to kudos, critiques in Manitoba

For a product with a reputation for inducing tranquility, cannabis certainly caused a lot of buzz on Wednesday.

Elation, Sense, Easy Cheesy, Super Skunk and Justin Trudope among products on 1st day of legal cannabis sales

Pipes and other products are displayed inside Tokyo Smoke. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

For a product with a reputation for inducing tranquility, cannabis certainly caused a lot of buzz in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Long lines, crowded counters, the timbre of blended voices and laughter, a DJ spinning records, a media swarm and cars circling the parking lot, looking for a place to pull in, were all part of the scene at Tokyo Smoke in St. Boniface.

A crowd lines up to buy product at Tokyo Smoke on Wednesday morning. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

It left one newspaper photographer limping after a car rolled over the toe of his shoe while he was snapping a pic.

"Business is going to be OK, I think," someone commented as the congregation grew.

Cheers rose up from a bundled and shivering crowd of 60 people when staff opened the doors at 10 a.m. with a cheery, "Welcome, everyone."

It was difficult to tell whether those in line were happy about being a part of history on the first official day of marijuana legalization in Canada, or the chance to get out of the –4 C weather.

Tokyo Smoke customers look over the shelves of available product. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

For Bill Ridgwell, it was about finally shedding the illicit feeling of buying pot.

"Today, I'm not a criminal," he said, a smile showing through his broad beard. 

"It's nice to see it legalized so you're not worried about going to jail for it. I'm a good citizen, I've worked all my life and it's just nice to be able to take a puff and not be a criminal anymore."

Bill Ridgwell is happy he can walk into a store and buy cannabis to cope with his chronic pain. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Ridgwell, who almost had both arms torn away in a dirt bike crash 26 years ago, uses cannabis to deal with the ongoing pain, mostly so he can sleep through it.

"It takes your mind away from it and anything I can do to reduce the amount of [prescription] meds I'm on is good."

Not everyone came out happy. A few people commented on the … well, high prices.

People going into Tokyo Smoke on Wednesday get a "shopping list" booklet and a small education pamphlet called Higher Learning. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

"I paid $71 for seven grams. It's cheaper to go to my dealer," said one man, who didn't want his name or photo used.

"I can get this same stuff on the street for $50. So far I'm not impressed."

Those comments were echoed by a man named Ray, who was also reluctant to give his full name.

"They're never going to take out the black market at these prices. It's a mockery."

But for Angel Compton, who has bought from dealers as well as from legalized stores in the United States, the higher price is worth the peace of mind.

Angel Compton plans to test her Tokyo Smoke bud against what she bought on the street recently. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

"There's quality control — things are grown in a lab, not someone's basement," she said. "And I feel safe [in the licensed retailer]. It'll be just as common as going to 7-Eleven soon."

That said, she still had to test the potency and planned to measure the Tokyo Smoke product against the stuff she recently picked up on the street.

"I'll go try it, compare it, and have a really good day."

Those browsing and those buying walked among minimalist and sleek displays that looked like a fusion of Apple and Saje wellness stores — shiny products alongside greenery.

Kertney Russell with Tokyo Smoke takes a whiff of a bud from a scent pod. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Slate grey shelves displayed white pods where people can pull out a mini stopper and take a whiff of the various buds, which must by law be behind glass.

The shelves also displayed information boards to explain cannabis terms and ingredients, while the various strains — which come in the forms of pre-rolled joints, capsules, nose sprays and oil — had names like Elation, Sense, Easy Cheesy and Super Skunk.

Over at Delta 9 on Dakota Street in St. Vital is a strain called Justin Trudope, a salute to the prime minister who ushered in the legalization.

A display inside Tokyo Smoke shows customers the amounts of cannabis they get in one gram, 3.5 grams and seven grams. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Near the strains in the Tokyo Smoke scent pods are tongue-in-cheek cards that mimic wine menus, suggesting what the product is best paired with.

For instance, Pause pairs well with "forgetting all about your inbox" while Rise pairs well with "winning at trivia night" and Cold Kreek Kush pairs well with "uncovering your inner Picasso."

Like the products, the customers also spanned a wide variety, running the gamut of age, gender and fashion — business-like and bush, wool coats and camouflage. 

Delta 9 CEO John Arbuthnot said the company has had an incredible influx of sales, processing about 600 online orders overnight, starting as soon as marijuana became legal at midnight. 

Steven Stairs camped outside Delta 9 in St. Boniface ahead of the cannabis store's grand opening on Wednesday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

At some point, there seemed to be orders coming in online almost every second, he said, with the real surge happening between midnight and 2 a.m. 

"It's almost surreal. An incredible amount of work went into actually bring this all together, especially in the last couple weeks," he said. 

He was on the phone with his inventory manager at 2 a.m. about getting more product in.

At this point, it's "anyone's guess" whether they will run out this week, he said, but the company is working diligently to make sure there's still bud on the shelves. 

Longtime cannabis advocate and former Green Party candidate Steven Stairs had the first campsite in line outside Delta 9 on Wednesday morning.

"I'm beyond excited. We've waited 95 years for prohibition to be ended regarding cannabis," he said.

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

Adam Clyne, 22, one of the first people to line up outside Tokyo Smoke on Wednesday, says it will be nice to buy cannabis safely from a store instead of from a dealer illegally. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Anthony Klatt, who was also outside Delta 9 with his tent, echoed those sentiments.

"I'm just a big connoisseur​ and enthusiast. I'm just supporting the companies and the cannabis industry as well, as much as I can," he said.

Four cannabis stores in Winnipeg and one in Dauphin were ready for business at 10 a.m. — one each from Delta 9, Tokyo Smoke and three from Tweed.

Tokyo Smoke announced late Wednesday morning that a second location, in the Exchange District, would open in the afternoon, while Meta Cannabis Supply Co. said its inaugural Canadian store will open Thursday on Pembina Highway.

In all, Meta intends to have four locations Winnipeg, including its largest "flagship" store in Osborne Village at the corner of Osborne and Stradbrook Avenue. It also has plans for stores in Brandon, Dauphin, Portage la Prairie and Thompson.

Other Delta 9 locations are also on the way in the coming months.

The province's agreement with the retailers allows them to each open a maximum of 10 stores in Manitoba.

"I've been waiting my whole life for sensible cannabis reform," said Stairs, a medical marijuana patient. "We've lost other people on that wait, who fought very hard for cannabis legalization. We're finally getting there."

Canada will now be a world leader in the "respectable and rational approach" to cannabis, he said.

Josh Lyon was the first employee for Tokyo Smoke when it opened as a small cafe and accessories shop in a downtown Toronto alley. He's now a VP with the company. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Josh Lyon, vice-president of marketing for Toronto-based Tokyo Smoke flew into Winnipeg for Wednesday's opening because it is the company's first store in Canada.

"Truthfully, it's taking a lot to fight back tears," he said about witnessing the moment.

Tokyo Smoke started three years ago as a small cafe that sold cannabis accessories and advocated for legalization, while providing education to tackle the stigma around it. Lyon was the first employee.

Truthfully, it's taking a lot to fight back tears.- Josh Lyon

"Now, to stand here with 100 others and bask in Canada's progress, it's fantastic. It speaks to the pent-up demand that there is," he said.

Tokyo Smoke plans to open locations in B.C. and Alberta later this year and Ontario by April 2019. Those provinces were slower in getting their regulations in place, which in turn slowed the process for retailers, he said.

Lacey Norton, vice-president of retail for Tokyo Smoke, said education will continue to be a big part of the company's operation.

"Dissipating fear comes from knowledge, and the more knowledgeable you can become about this product, the less fearful people will be," she said.

Pot stores open in Manitoba

5 years ago
Duration 0:41
For a product with a reputation for inducing tranquility, cannabis certainly caused a lot of buzz in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

With files from Austin Grabish

Pot stores open to kudos, critiques in Manitoba

5 years ago
Duration 2:32
Elation, Sense, Easy Cheesy, Super Skunk and Justin Trudope among products on 1st day of legal cannabis sales.