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October 18, 2018

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Canada legalizes cannabis but it’s pot luck trying to find a store

Canada became the first industrialized nation to legalize recreational cannabis yesterday, but a legal buzz will be hard to come by in its biggest cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, which have no stores open.

Weed enthusiasts in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s easternmost province, kicked off the first permissible sales at midnight.

More than 100 people braved the cold and wind in the province’s capital St John’s, lining up outside a Tweed-branded store owned by Canopy Growth Corp, the world’s most recognized cannabis producer.

Canopy’s Chief Executive Bruce Linton rang up the first sales to residents Ian Power and Nikki Rose.

“I came out tonight to be the first person in Canada to purchase the first legal gram of recreational cannabis, to help see the end of prohibition in Canada finally,” Power said.

The day was historic for the country as adult Canadians will be able to legally smoke recreational marijuana after nearly a century-long ban.

However, many provincial governments’ approval of only a small number of shops so far, and a shortage of weed supplied to these stores, means most Canadians’ first toke will likely be of black-market pot.

“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.

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.

The move is a political win for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who vowed to legalize cannabis in his 2015 election campaign.

That pledge was aimed at taking profits away from organized crime and regulating the production, distribution and consumption of a product that millions of Canadians had been consuming illegally.

In the run-up to legalization, cannabis companies have been on a tear, as companies struck deals while others went public, creating an investor frenzy. But the federal government and many provinces have been cautious, starting with limited stores and products, including no edibles for a year, and tight control over supply.

Ontario, home to Canada’s most populous city, Toronto, will have no physical stores until April 2019, due to a change to 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 from its biggest city, Vancouver.

Private store licenses will only be issued from today, the province’s Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said.

Even in provinces with more shops, empty shelves are likely due to a shortage of product.

A study by the University of Waterloo and economic policy think tank C.D. Howe Institute found that legal supply will satisfy under 60 percent of demand in the early months, though that will most probably change as production increases.


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