Canadians in Newfoundland in the east were the first to have legal access to the drug on Wednesday, when retailers began selling at midnight. The Cannabis Act makes the Great White North the world’s second country, and largest economy, to legalise the substance.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau, who promised on the campaign trail to legalise marijuana, tweeted: “Profits out of the hands of criminals. Protection for our kids. Today cannabis is legalised and regulated across Canada.”
The new law allows Canadians who are 18 and older of age to carry and share up to 30 grams of marijuana in public. They will have access to items including pre-rolled joints, cannabis oil, and dried flowers in shops and online.
The government is expected to go further, providing pardons for individuals who have been convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
As many as 500,000 Canadians have marijuana convictions on their criminal records, and more than 15,000 have been charged with marijuana-related offences since Mr Trudeau became prime minister in 2015.
Supporters of legalisation have argued that the country will benefit from tax on sales to residents and international tourists.
“The fact that we are moving away from a prohibition model is a victory for human rights and social justice, an economic windfall for the Canadian economy and a sign of social progress,” Adam Greenblatt, of producer Canopy Growth, told The New York Times.
The new law has investors buzzing about the potential for profits from marijuana sales, adding to an already robust year for weed stocks as interest in the market has soared. While shares in marijuana companies dipped this week, the speculation over the year has seen growth for companies such as Mr Greenblatt’s – up 130 per cent this year – and Aurora Cannabis, up 510 per cent on last year.
But not everyone is convinced that legalising marijuana is a good idea. In a testimony to the Canadian legislature, members of the country’s medical community noted evidence that early and frequent use of the drug can impact mental health. And Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford, sent a letter to Mr Trudeau on Tuesday suggesting that police forces don’t have adequate capacity to handle a surge in drug-driving offences.
Bernard Le Foll, an addiction specialist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, told The Independent that while his organisation supports the legalisation of marijuana, not enough has been done to educate the public about the dangers of the drug, which include addiction, impaired driving, and mental health issues.
“There is no doubt now in the medical community that cannabis is an addictive substance,” Mr Le Foll said.
“It has been estimated that around 9 per cent of users will develop what is called cannabis dependence.
“I think the problem is ... there is a perception that it is a benign substance that does not affect them badly,” he continued, before noting that a large portion of marijuana users report driving under the influence.
“They feel that it is safe to do but clearly it is not. The issue is an issue of education. I think there has been for so long such little information going to the public that people have made their own judgement of cannabis, and the feeling is probably more favourable than what it (truly should be).”
Statistics Canada, the national data agency, has projected that marijuana spending could reach $6.3billion Canadian dollars (£3.6bn) annually. Around 20 per cent of the population is expected to use marijuana, with users soaring past seven million.
Starting on Wednesday, customers in most parts of the country were able to buy cannabis from either government or private stores – with some provinces taking more time to acquire licences.
Bill Blair, the minister in charge of legalisation, said his government expects there to be sufficient supply to meet demand but added: “It may take some time before illegal marijuana dealers are pushed out of the market.”
“For the first time the local drug dealer will have competition,” Mr Blair told The Wall Street Journal. “Adult Canadians will have a choice, and it will be healthier.”
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