Day One of legal weed in Canada: One woman’s quest for a legal joint

I occasionally smoke pot.

I’m more likely to sip on a cocktail or have a pint, though. And aside from a couple of dispensary visits when so-called grey-market retailers began popping up in downtown Ottawa, I never really tried to purchase weed. I got high with a little help from my friends.

But as of Wednesday, this infrequent habit is no longer something that could land casual enjoyers like me in hot water. So for the first time, to commemorate the occasion, I’m going to make an effort. On behalf of all the other slightly lazy, mildly curious Ontarians looking to take advantage of the legal market, I hereby present my honest toke — er, take — on what it’s like to hunt for that first legal joint — and actually smoke it — on Day One.

— — —

It’s before midnight on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018.

4:20 p.m. With hours left until the Ontario Cannabis Store website goes live, I notice the time and think to myself that it would be funny (or, at least, blandly amusing) if I purchased some hemp beer to drink. Alas, all of the LCBOs in my vicinity are sold out of such products. It is possible I am not the first genius to come up with the idea.

11:30 p.m. To get into the mood, or at least my vision for what the mood should be, I light a few candles and decide to stream a playlist titled “Today’s Chill.” Within five minutes, I begin to fall asleep. The tunes are too chill. I choose silence — a silence pregnant with anticipation. I instantly regret typing the phrase “pregnant with anticipation,” but I have pledged to be honest, so here we are.

11:45 p.m. I’ve opened the OCS website in a tab, but it isn’t live yet. Out of curiosity, I open Newfoundland and Labrador’s online pot shop, which has already been live for more than an hour. The website loads up just fine. To my delight, one of the first products I spot is a cannabis strain called “Boaty McBoatface.” Unsurprisingly, the site doesn’t allow any out-of-province deliveries. Sigh.

— — —

Midnight hits. It’s Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

12:00:45 a.m. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.

12:02 a.m. The OCS website requires that I input my legal date of birth. I get past the initial landing page successfully, since I am over 19, or at least, that’s what I have told this website. But once I’m in: “Page Not Found.” Uh-oh. Nonetheless, I try navigating to another area of the site, where products are listed, and I’m able to forge ahead. I don’t see the error again.

12:13 a.m. Damn. You can’t buy “Boaty McBoatface” in Ontario, although you can buy “Great White Shark.” Other strains have names such as “Tangerine Dream,” “Banana Split,” “Chocolate Fondue” and, huh, now I’m feeling a bit peckish.

12:18 a.m. The lowest price for a single gram of weed is $7.50, and that goes up to $17.25. It’s also possible to buy 3.5 or seven grams at a time. Some strains are offered by more than one company, but at different prices — for example, three companies are selling “Shishkaberry” at a range of $9.75 to $12.25 per gram.

12:25 a.m. I click to discover the details for a strain called “Dreamweaver,” mostly because the song “Dreamweaver” has been in my head ever since I scrolled past it a few minutes ago. It is described as having “flavours of pine, spice and citrus.” Huh.

 

 

12:45 a.m. Do I need a $226 vaporizer? No. No, I certainly don’t. After distracting myself looking at the wide array of accessories available for sale, I settle on two strains that sound interesting and add a gram each to my imaginary shopping cart. With $5 flat-rate shipping, my total comes to $27.50. It’s almost certainly more than I would’ve paid for at black-market rates, but here I am, a law-abiding citizen sitting comfortably in my pyjamas.

12:55 a.m. Wait a minute, though. The delivery will take an estimated one to three days. Maybe my pot will arrive tomorrow, but what if it doesn’t, and I like the idea of lighting a legally purchased joint on Actual Day One? Something to tell the grandkids, right? …Right? As I get ready to turn the lights out, I make a pact with myself on Tuesday that tomorrow, I’ll try to hit the pavement and see what I can find.

— — —

9:45 a.m. Coffee is brewing, and… and…

9:50 a.m. I start drinking the coffee and can now function. My inbox features no updates from the OCS on when my two grams of weed might arrive from Canada Post. (This is all pretty weird.)

10:21 a.m. The OCS has no physical locations, and the private market promised by Ontario will not be up and running until the spring, so I wonder if I can hop across the border to purchase weed in Quebec. It’ll be just like going to bars in downtown Hull at 18, but better in every conceivable way.


I am not THIS committed to the idea of lighting up today.

Google Maps

10:28 a.m. Turns out the nearest government-run pot store is in Mirabel, Que. It’s approximately 160 km from my apartment by car, with no easy routes on public transportation. I do not have a car. It would take 32 hours to walk. I am not that committed to the idea of lighting up today.

10:41 a.m. I look back at some Facebook messages I was exchanging with a friend last night. He said he didn’t foresee any change in his habits after Wednesday. The weed he already buys from his dealer is cheaper and “they” deliver. Promptly.

10:49 a.m. It feels comical to check again so soon, but there is still no delivery notice in my emails.

— — —

11:55 a.m. I venture outside and stroll along a main street nearby. It’s only lunchtime, but still, I’m a little surprised to see nothing out of the ordinary during the first few minutes of my walk.

12:01 p.m. Aha! I have discovered a young man in a sweatshirt, openly smoking a joint on the sidewalk outside of a Bank Street pub. For a moment, my Ottawa brain kicks in and I think to myself, “it’s a Wednesday, dude.” And for another moment I consider asking for a puff. But I am determined to find Legal Bud today.

12:08 p.m. I visit a store called the Cannabis Emporium. A few sales are on. Only one other customer is in the store — he mumbles something about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his way out, not having bought anything. “Big day,” I say to the young shopkeeper, who shrugs. He thinks the number of people smoking weed won’t change, but, “we’ll probably get more customers now.”

12:12 p.m. I spot more smoke as I approach the downtown core.

12:13 p.m. False alarm. The smoke was from a hot dog stand.

12:23 p.m. As I approach Parliament Hill, a friendly do-gooder hands me a paper bag that contains an apple and a postcard with information about a charity on it. I stuff the paper bag into my purse, next to the new weed grinder I just bought. I take a moment to question my priorities.


Why is the Parliament Hill lawn so empty? Maybe I should come back at 4:20.

Marie-Danielle Smith

12:26 p.m. Literally no one on the entire Hill is smoking weed. What? I guess the point of puff-puff-passing in front of the legislature is a little more moot today. But maybe I should swing back around later in the afternoon to see if an April 20th-style haze materializes.

12:34 p.m. I gaze out at a beautiful view of the Ottawa River and imagine how nice it would be to be just lightly toasted right now, were it not, you know, a work day.

1:08 p.m. It’s after a trek all the way down Rideau Street that I successfully locate a dispensary with its doors open. I enter. Three customers, who all seem to be in their 20s, are making purchases. Two young men are working inside. They think they’re the only compassion club still open today — others have shuttered hoping to apply for a legal permit. Products for sale include edibles, which aren’t legal yet. This is probably the only brick-and-mortar store in town where you can buy a THC-infused gummy bear. I decide not to walk away with any bud, since what I really want is a state-sponsored spliff.

— — —

1:40 p.m. I’m headed back to the apartment hoping to hide out there in the event that a Canada Post deliveryman shows up asking for proof of age. And it. Starts. F**king. Snowing. (This only lasts for a moment, but it feels as though the sky is laughing at my failures.)

2:17 p.m. I go back and consult the list of stores that are open in the province of Quebec, since it so happens that I’m headed to Montreal this evening. There’s a downtown location I might be able to make it to before closing time, if I sprint upon arrival. There is still hope.

3:15 p.m. I get into a texting conversation with a friend in Toronto who’s a self-described yuppie. After starting his career, he began to feel paranoid about being labelled a “stoner,” so he stopped smoking as frequently as he used to. Now that some of that stigma is gone, he says he’ll feel more comfortable lighting up whenever he feels like it. But he plans to keep visiting dispensaries rather than buying from the government online, at least for now. “I will definitely still be careful not to let my suits smell.”

3:47 p.m. I take a bag of goldfish crackers out of the cupboard and pour some into a bowl. I have the munchies. The sober munchies.

3:51 p.m. It is strange to be consuming goldfish crackers in the middle of the day.

6 p.m. I’m at the station waiting to depart for Montreal and I hear an announcement that asks people to “light up at gate two.” Wait. No. It must’ve been “line up.” One track mind. When I arrive in Montreal, if this train’s on time, I’ll have less than half an hour to hit up the closest store before it closes at 9 p.m.


Too many people, not enough time at the Montreal pot store.

Marie-Danielle Smith

8:44 p.m. After a brisk walk from the train station, I confront what I have feared: a hell of a line-up at the pot store on Sainte-Catherine Ouest in Montreal. With 15 minutes left until the place shuts down for the evening, at least 20 people are in a formal line, and a security guard is telling the loose crowd gathered around them to “just go.” A cop car is parked across the street. “Ah well,” says one half of a middle-aged couple.

8:51 p.m. I’ve stuck around to people-watch. A man with a megaphone says the shop is closing soon and “you will have to come back tomorrow.” Maybe I will. But if you live in Ontario without easy access to another province and you’re as determined as I was over the past 24 hours to abide by the law, pray that the postal service holds up. Because you probably couldn’t have smoked a legal joint today even if you wanted to.

8:55 p.m. And damn it, no word about my shipment. I’m getting myself a drink.

The quest has ended.

— — —

Post-script

Thursday, Oct. 18 in Montreal, Que.

3:15 p.m. After wrapping up some work duties, I wander down to Sainte-Catherine to see how bad the line-up is at the store. Maybe I can smoke weed today. Maybe.

3:17 p.m. My lord. It stretches all the way down the block, around the corner, and then halfway down the next block. A city block and a half of people, two or three deep, on a chilly autumn day, waiting to enter a government-run store that will sell them drugs. As with last night, there are also dozens of gawkers, mostly across the street, stopping to take photos. I have nary an hour to spare before heading to the train station. There’s just no way.

4:21 p.m. I walk past again on my way to the train station, and now the line-up goes for two full blocks, and then some. People have kindly left gaps in the line for driveways and storefronts, which feels Canadian as f**k. Still no email. I walk away defeated.

7:21 p.m. A former NDP MP replies to one of my tweets saying it’s ironic how in Ontario and B.C. on Wednesday, “practically everyone who got stoned did so from illicit sources.” Yeah, bud. I hear you loud and clear.

— — —

Friday, Oct. 19, back in Ottawa.

7:20 a.m. My alarm wakes me from a dream wherein I was trying to buy pot at a store in Ottawa, which, I mean, that’s the stuff of dreams, I guess. Behind the counter, I see cannabis packages lined up along the wall. I go to a cashier and ask her if I can buy one gram of dried bud, please. She says, “what about this salad dressing instead?” and hands me a bottle of salad dressing that apparently has THC in it. Then, she begins offering me other salad ingredients, such as lettuce. For some reason, I accept. After foisting mixed greens upon me, the cashier tries to process the transaction without turning around to get me a package of weed. It’s right there! Just out of reach! I remind her about my request, and then she says, “I can’t sell that to you. We’re too close to the Hill.”

10:05 a.m. I tell my colleagues about the dream. They laugh.

12:52 p.m. By the end of today, it will have been three full business days since I ordered my weed online from the OCS. My confirmation email said one to three days. After finishing my burrito, I call bulls**t internally, daring Canada Post to show up and prove me wrong.

3:05 p.m. A reader emails me asking if I’ve received my pot shipment yet. (No. Sigh.) He says he just placed a second order with the OCS, and based on the order number, they’ve just about hit the 120,000 mark. It might be a while, pal: my order number was in the 16,000 range, and I’ve got nothing.

5:20 p.m. A friend sends me the following text message: “YO HAVE YOU GOTTEN YOUR WEED YET?” I say no, sad face. I feel sad. Meanwhile, the reader from earlier this afternoon has written back to say that his order got cancelled per his request — when he had made no such request! This makes me feel increasingly pessimistic as I stare down a weekend absent even the option of legal pot. Good luck, Ontario.

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