Legal cannabis: A look back at the highs and lows of Year 1
There was a lot of celebration in Edmonton on Oct. 17, 2018. Ribbons were cut, doors were unlocked, sniff jars were…sniffed.
That one day marked a monumental shift in Canada’s approach to marijuana. The country became the largest in area, and second-largest in population, to legalize recreational cannabis.
Alberta was quicker out of the gate than most provinces. Twelve stores opened here. One opened in B.C. Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, did not open a single legal store.
In Edmonton, line-ups stretched around corners and down sidewalks. People waited hours to get their first legal puff of pot.
But the celebration didn’t last long.
Within about three weeks, the supply of federally-approved Cannabis essentially ran out. Shelves were nearly bare, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission couldn’t fill entire orders from stores, and the limited amount of product shops were able to bring in was quickly sold out.
The federal pot shortage lasted several months, putting the brakes on several large pot chains’ plans for expansion.
“Until we were a little more confident supply was there and would stay, we didn’t build,” said James Burns, CEO of AlCanna, which owns the Nova chain of cannabis stores.
AlCanna opened five stores on legalization day, with immediate plans to open three more. Fire & Flower also started with five, with plans for 12 early on. Both had to stall those plans, resulting in losses in the millions of dollars.
Mike Vioncek, C.O.O. of Fire & Flower told CTV Edmonton News “I would be lying if I said it was an easy process.”
Both retailers blame the nation-wide pot shortage on a number of factors, including an unknown demand, new regulations, laws and systems to navigate, and government red tape.
“Initially, I think there was some issues with Health Canada approval of licensed producers and being a little behind,” said Vioncek.
By mid to late spring, the supply of legal marijuana finally outpaced the demand. At the end of May, Health Canada recorded 22,166 kg of cannabis available at the retail level, with sales of 9,495 kg for the month.
LEARNING THE NEW RULES
A newly-legalized intoxicant brought a plethora of new rules and regulations for Canadians to learn. Laws and specific bylaws came from Ottawa, right down to individual municipalities.
In Edmonton, nine tickets were handed out for breaking the cannabis rules by the end of August, and 260 warnings were issued. The most common infraction was lighting up where smoking is not allowed.
The Edmonton Police Service purchased two Draeger 5000 Drug Test units, one of two electronic devices approved by Ottawa for roadside pot screening. But the EPS focused on training officers on standardized field sobriety tests, or SFSTs.
“It’s established, there’s good case law on it, it’s been established in the criminal code since 2008,” Det. Braydon Lawrence told CTV News Edmonton.
Overall, the number of impaired driving incidents recorded by EPS went up by about one per cent. The number has gone down steadily since 2012.
The number of drug-impaired driving reports jumped by 70 per cent. But police say that may be a result of enhanced training for officers on the signs of drug impairment.