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Cannabis is legal across Canada from today and 109 stores are opening immediately

Medical marijuana dispensaries are already common in parts of the country.

A cannabis rally in Toronto, Ontario.
A cannabis rally in Toronto, Ontario.
Image: Johnny De Franco

MAT BEREN AND and his friends used to drive by the vast greenhouses of southern British Columbia and joke about how much weed they could grow there.

Years later, it’s no joke. The tomato and pepper plants that once filled some of those greenhouses have been replaced with a new cash crop: marijuana.

Beren and other formerly illicit growers are helping cultivate it. The buyers no longer are unlawful dealers or dubious medical dispensaries; it’s the Canadian government.

Today, Canada becomes the second and largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace. Uruguay launched legal sales last year, after several years of planning.

It’s a profound social shift promised by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and fuelled by a desire to bring the black market into a regulated, taxed system after nearly a century of prohibition.

It also stands in contrast to the United States, where the federal government outlaws marijuana while most states allow medical or recreational use for people 21 and older.

Canada’s national approach has allowed for unfettered industry banking, inter-province shipments of cannabis, online ordering, postal delivery and billions of dollars in investment; national prohibition in the US has stifled greater industry expansion there.

At least 109 legal cannabis stores are expected to open across the nation of 37 million people today, with many more to come, according to an Associated Press survey of the provinces.

For now, they’ll offer dried flower, capsules, tinctures and seeds, with sales of marijuana-infused foods and concentrates expected to begin next year.

The provinces are tasked with overseeing marijuana distribution. For some, including British Columbia and Alberta, that means buying cannabis from licensed producers, storing it in warehouses and then shipping it to retail shops and online customers. Others, like Newfoundland, are having growers ship directly to stores or through the mail.

Federal taxes will total $1 per gram or 10%, whichever is more. The federal government will keep one-fourth of that and return the rest to the provinces, which can add their own markups. Consumers also will pay local sales taxes.

Some provinces have chosen to operate their own stores, that will work like state-run off licences. 

Other provinces have given the green light to private outlets and most are letting residents grow up to four plants at home.

Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, won’t have any stores open until next April.

Until then, the only legal option for Ontario residents will be mail delivery — a prospect that didn’t sit well with longtime marijuana user fan Ryan Bose, 48, a Lyft driver.

“Potheads are notoriously very impatient. When they want their weed, they want their weed,” he said after buying a half-ounce at an illicit medical marijuana dispensary in Toronto.

Waiting one or two three days for it by mail, I’m not sure how many will want to do that.

THE CANADIAN PRESS 2018-04-20 A man celebrates the annual marijuana celebration in Vancouver on 20 April. Source: PA Images

British Columbia, home of the “BC Bud”, has had a prevalent marijuana culture since the 1970s, after US draft-dodgers from the Vietnam War settled on Vancouver Island and in the province’s southeastern mountains.

But a change in government last year slowed cannabis distribution plans there, too, and it will have just one State-run store opening today. By contrast, Alberta expects to open 17 next week and 250 within a year.

No immediate crackdown is expected for the dozens of illicit-but-tolerated medical marijuana dispensaries operating in British Columbia, though officials eventually plan to close any without a license. Many are expected to apply for private retail licenses, and some have sued, saying they have a right to remain open.

Chris Clay, a longtime Canadian medical marijuana activist, runs Warmland Centre dispensary in an old shopping mall in Mill Bay, on Vancouver Island.

He is closing the store until he gets a license; he feared continuing to operate post-legalisation would jeopardises his chances. Some of his eight staff members will likely have to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

“That will be frustrating, but overall I’m thrilled,” Clay said. “I’ve been waiting decades for this.”

Growers

The federal government has licensed 120 growers, some of them enormous.

Canopy Growth, which recently received an investment of $4 billion from Constellation Brands, whose holdings include Corona beer, Robert Mondavi wines and Black Velvet whiskey, is approved for 520,000 sq-m of production space across Canada. 

Beren, a 23-year cannabis grower, is a Canopy consultant.

“We used to joke around all the time when we’d go to Vancouver and drive by the big greenhouses on the highway,” he said.

“Like,’Oh man, someday. It’d be so awesome if we could grow cannabis in one of these greenhouses.’ We drive by now, and we’re like, ‘Oh, we’re here.’”

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Associated Press

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