‘I just want to be the first one’
ONLINE AND IN LONG, SMOKY LINEUPS, ENTHRALLED CANADIANS EMBRACE FIRST DAY OF LEGALIZED CANNABIS
Megan Kennedy had it choreographed: Cut a ribbon, sell some weed. Close to midnight, she told one of the regulars at her health food store in St. John’s exactly how much he’d need: $6.90 for a pre-rolled joint, taxes in. The customer counted the money and balled it up in his fist, holding it there for 20 minutes, careful not to lose any coins, waiting for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday — the time, as prescribed by the Newfoundland premier, for legal cannabis sales to start.
Kennedy, who co-owns Natural Vibe, a health food store with a new cannabis wing, wanted to make the first legal sale in Canada — a feat she was geographically positioned to do, being in the time zone that would first enter Oct. 17.
A few blocks along Water Street in St. John’s, the major cannabis retailer Tweed had a more intricate plan. The retailer flew Bruce Linton — CEO of Tweed’s parent company Canopy Growth — to the St. John’s outlet. He stood behind the counter to declare in front of a phalanx of invited news cameras that history had been made, handing over Tweed-branded bags to the first customers in a collision of commerce and counter-culture broadcast across the country.
At Natural Vibe, a short walk away, Kennedy knew about the scene at Tweed. There was a part of her that wanted to beat them. “I’m a really competitive person in my heart,” she said. “I just wanted to be the one.”
At midnight, she cut the red ribbon that was pulled across the countertop in her store. They started a timer, counting down to 12:01. Kennedy turned to her first customer, Jackson McLean.
“I basically threw the money at her, she threw the weed at me, and we were done,” McLean said. “It felt just like New Year’s, but instead of a new year we’re going into a new era.”
From 12:01 a.m. Newfoundland time, these firsts continued westward, with hordes of people waiting outside pot shops, or refreshing their browsers online, all grasping at something, probably just to buy weed, maybe witness history, but also, for some, to be history. For now, what’s clear is the day delivered characters, plucked by news reporters pacing the lines outside pot shops.
There was the man named Ned Flanders, first into one of the stores in Calgary. Kyle Sweezie, waiting outside a shop in Edmonton, attained social media notoriety after being photographed with a half-eaten McMuffin. So, too, was the bearded gentleman in Halifax who, in an interview with CBC News, showed off a shoulder bag his mother made him.
The federal Liberal government, responsible for Wednesday’s legalization, marked the day by announcing plans to simplify the process of receiving pardons for pot possession convictions. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale promised forthcoming legislation that will waive the five-year waiting period and $631 fee that applicants currently face.
“Now that the laws on cannabis have changed,” Goodale said, “individuals who previously acquired criminal records for simple possession of cannabis should be allowed to shed the stigma and the burden of that record.”
In New Brunswick, Brian Harriman was at a boardroom table in a warehouse past midnight, watching numbers projected on a whiteboard in the room. Traffic was surging on the province’s online cannabis store, hovering around 400 active users, then jumping past 700. Harriman, CEO of New Brunswick Liquor Corporation that is managing the roll-out of the province’s cannabis stores, said one of his staff kept refreshing their order totals – 12 purchases in the first nine minutes, 220 in the first hour. (Compare that to B.C., where the government site reportedly sold 1,000 cannabis products in the first hour.)
“In our stores all day, it’s been like kids on Christmas,” he said. “They’ve been waiting for this anxiously.”
In Montreal, Hugo Senecal thrust his fist in the air, crying out from the front of a line outside a government-run store on Ste.Catherine Street that started at 3:45 a.m. “I’m basically a stoner,” he told the Gazette, “and I just want to be the first one to buy legal cannabis in Montreal.”
There were no lines in Ontario. There are no legal stores, not yet, as the new PC government sorts out licences for private retailers after scrapping its predecessor’s plan for governmentrun stores.
In Regina, delays meant that the closest cannabis store open was roughly 15 kilometres from downtown. By morning, 30 people from Regina had made the trip to wait in line outside.
A man smokes a joint while waiting outside a government cannabis store in Montreal Wednesday, as the legal sale of marijuana begins in Canada.
Members of 437 Transport Squadron, based at Ontario’s CFB Trenton, were instructed not to approach the VIPs on the flight, including former hockey star Tiger Williams.