By Jacqueline Corba and Carlo Versano
Celebrations broke out across Canada in the early hours of Wednesday morning when the country became the second ー and largest ー in the world to legalize recreational marijuana at the federal level.
The first sales took place in the easternmost parts of the nation ー St. John's, New Foundland ー shortly after midnight, with customers lining up outside retailers to get their hands on legal bud.
It marks a sea change in global policy, one many other countries will look to as they review shifting attitudes toward the drug.
"We are ready from a store perspective as well as from an e-commerce perspective," said Jean-François Bergeron, vice-president at SAQ, Québec's liquor corporation, which is overseeing the government's brand new cannabis retailer known as SQDC.
"We have inventory, we have the stock on site, we have all the points-of-sale ready to kick in."
Access to marijuana is regulated province to province in Canada. Some, like New Foundland, will open brick-and-mortar locations right away, while others, such as Ottawa, will start with online-only retail.
"People will be allowed to purchase it through the mail first, then we will have dispensaries or shops people will be able to go to next April," Riley Brockington, City Councillor for Ottawa's River Ward, told Cheddar.
But he knows legalization is as much about regulation and taxation as it is about acceptance of marijuana.
"I don't condone drug use," said Brockington. "I live in reality ー there is a fairly moderate demand for cannabis, and what the federal government is trying to do is basically undercut or undermine the black market by making it legal."
Meanwhile, Québec will open 12 physical shops through the SQDC. Cheddar visited one of those stores in Montreal one day before legalization and found it to be organized and easy-to-understand from a customer perspective.
"You have to realize that our mission is not to make a profit," said SAQ's Bergeron, the Québec retail representative.
"Our mission is a social mission."
Bergeron said any revenue from sales will go back into funding public education, addiction programs, and safety. Québec also expects to capture 30 percent of the black market sales in the first year and will offer cannabis at the most competitive prices compared to other provinces, according to Bergeron.