It's hard to describe the electrifying and fulfilling experience watching Canada's decadeslong cannabis prohibition fall to its knees on Oct. 17, 2018. An activity which I and many like me have done in the shadows for decades has finally been validated to both Canadians and the rest of the world.
On the eve of Oct. 17, Canada's official legalization day, I found myself walking the streets of Toronto toward a large party held by a publicly traded, multi-billion dollar cannabis producer. The week before this event, the only recreational marijuana I could purchase was in the parking lot or an unlicensed dispensary, immediately branding me a criminal in the eyes of law enforcement.
Now, on this historic night, I witnessed dozens of tokers, each with their own strain and method of ingestion, standing free outside the venue enjoying cannabis without fear of persecution (although, technically, it was still illegal until 12:01 a.m.).
But I was not the only lucky individual to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event, I shared the feeling with millions of Canadians, tourists, and, heck, even individuals that opposed cannabis legalization but were unable to stop it.
Together we walked through that door and now, there's seemingly no turning back.
On the eve of legalization, Ontario, Canada's most populous province, did not have any physical stores ready. This was due to the change in provincial leadership. Ontario's new Premier, Progressive Conservative Doug Ford, ushered in a privately owned retailer model when he took over from his predecessor, the Liberals' Kathleen Wynne. The change in policy from a government-run retail monopoly to a market of privately owned retailers meant businesses needed time to apply and build outlets.
The lack of physical retail did not deter Ontarians from making their purchases — more than 1.3 million unique visitors logging onto the Ontario Cannabis Store website within the first 24 hours, according to an Oct. 19, 2018, report in The Star. During that time, 100,000 orders were filled.
By the end of Oct. 20, 2018, I traveled one province over to the French-Canadian capital of Quebec, where I was invited to conduct a one-day workshop at Concordia University in Montreal on legalization and how Canada became the first Group of 7 country to end cannabis prohibition. It was there that I was able to speak with people on the ground about their experiences purchasing legal recreational cannabis for the first time.
Unlike Ontario, Quebec had a number of locations open and locals lined up around the block, some of whom waited four hours to purchase legal marijuana. According to CTV News, within the first 15 hours of opening, the Societe quebecoise du cannabis (SQC) completed 12,500 in-person transactions.
One Concordia University student I spoke with said he ordered cannabis off of the provincial website, but also waited in line for almost an hour with fellow Canadians just so he could be a part of legalization in its entirety. When speaking with him and some others in Montreal, one could only describe the feeling as exhilarated disbelief as they purchased government approved cannabis for recreational use.
As I left Montreal at the end of what I consider one of the best weeks of my life, I was infected with the same satisfaction and elation of my fellow Canadians. Cannabis is legal across the country — society didn't implode, anarchy did not overtake the streets, and life just kept on going. The only difference was that everyone felt a little more free.
Congratulations, Canada. I'm proud to call you home.