Canada became the first industrialized nation to legalize recreational cannabis on Wednesday, but a lawful buzz will be hard to come by in its biggest cities like Toronto and Vancouver, where stores are not yet open.
Marijuana enthusiasts in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s easternmost province, kicked off the first permitted sales at midnight. Over 100 people braved the cold and wind in the provincial capital St. John’s, lining up outside a Tweed-branded store owned by Canopy.
The day was historic for the country as Canadian adults will be able to legally smoke recreational marijuana after nearly a century-long ban.
However, with many provincial governments only approving a small number of shops so far and a shortage of weed supplied to these stores, many Canadians will likely be smoking black-market pot on Wednesday.
“There will be a lot of celebrations on the day, and it will almost all be with illegal cannabis” in some of Canada’s biggest cities, said Brad Poulos, an instructor and cannabis business expert at Ryerson University in Toronto. “Recreational cannabis users in Canada … will just continue with their (existing) sources of supply until the legal system catches up.”
Despite the dearth of stores in Canada’s biggest cities, consumers can buy legal marijuana online from provincial governments or licensed retailers, although delivery will take a few days.
Countries around the world, many of which are just approving medical marijuana, are watching Canada’s recreational legalization, which combines federal rules with varying provincial regulations.
The move is a political win for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who vowed to legalize cannabis during his 2015 election campaign. The pledge was aimed at taking profits away from organized crime and regulating the production, distribution, and consumption of a product that millions of Canadians consume illegally.
“The criminal prohibition that was in effect for a century in this country has failed our kids and our community,” Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, told reporters. The change will bring “order to every aspect of the production, distribution and consumption of cannabis,” he added.
But provinces and businesses have struggled to prepare, and legalization was pushed back from a July start to enable setting up distribution and sales networks.
The federal government and many provinces have been cautious, starting with limited stores and products, including no edible pot for a year, and tight control over supply.
Ontario, home to Canada’s most populous city, Toronto, will have no stores until April 2019 due to a change in the province’s retail model by a new provincial government.
British Columbia, which plans both province-run and private outlets, has only one government store, 350 kilometers (220 miles) from its biggest city, Vancouver. No private store licenses have been issued so far and many municipalities are waiting until after local elections on October 20 to give their approvals for stores, province Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said.
Even in provinces with more shops, shelves are empty likely because of a shortage of product. A study by the University of Waterloo and the C.D. Howe Institute economic policy think tank found legal supply will satisfy under 60% of demand in the early months, though that will change as production increases.
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