UPDATE: Demand for legalized cannabis draws lineups, heavy web traffic across Canada

Canada cannabis

Cannabis was "flying off the shelves" in brick-and-mortar outlets and online stores Wednesday across the country as Canadians looked to make their first-ever legal purchase of recreational pot and participate in the historic cultural moment.

Less than 24 hours after Canada became one of the few countries around the world to legalize cannabis for adult use, some private retailers were either sold out of supply or were tending to long lineups and expected to run out by the end of the day.

Newfoundland and Labrador cannabis retailer Thomas Clarke said he sold out of his cannabis supply late in the afternoon, and he doesn't anticipate receiving more products until next week.

He opened his store, Thomas H. Clarke's Distribution, at midnight in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, N.L. but was turning away customers by the afternoon.

"Most of my friends and people who were gonna come today were going to come after work and now I gotta let down thousands of people, which is really bad for business and for my nerves," said Clarke.

He said he sold out of the 100 pre-rolled joint packages 30 minutes after midnight. Canopy Growth and Aurora Cannabis were the only two suppliers in the province with products available for the first day of sales, he added.

Wednesday marked the opening of what's expected to be a massive market for legal sales in Canada -- as much as $4 billion in the first year, according to a report from consultancy Deloitte.

Still, Canadian investors were less enthusiastic than consumers, as many of the industry's biggest players saw their stock prices fall on Wednesday.

Canadians eager to make their first legal purchase of recreational cannabis were met with long lineups at retail stores, technical glitches online and a relatively limited product selection.

Jimmy's Cannabis in Martensville, Sask. had a lineup of more than 100 people at one point and had processed more than 200 orders by mid-afternoon, said co-owner David Thomas.

"We ran out of one strain, so we still have plenty, but it will go fast here," he said, noting his supply might run out if demand continues at this pace.

Most Canadians' first purchase of legal adult-use pot will likely be online, as there were relatively few retail stores ready on Wednesday. What's more, the stores are unevenly spread across Canada's vast geography. While Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick had around 20 stores open in each, some of the most populous provinces, such as British Columbia, had just one location ready. Ontario won't have any physical stores until next year.

Ottawa-based Shopify, whose e-commerce software had been chosen by provinces such as Ontario and several private retailers, said Canadian cannabis websites were processing roughly 100 orders per minute, according to its vice-president Loren Padelford. The websites powered by Shopify also processed "hundreds of thousands of orders," in less than half a day, he added.

Alberta's cannabis sales portal saw a wave of traffic after it went live at 12:01 a.m., prompting the Alberta, Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis commission to put online customers into a virtual queue to avoid an outage.

"While the site had been rigorously tested, the surge of users quite simply exceeded our expectations," said a spokeswoman for the commission. By 12:50 a.m., the queue had cleared and by 11 a.m. it had processed more than 5,000 orders.

The Ontario government's website OCS.ca -- currently the only way to buy cannabis legally in Ontario -- was running smoothly, but drawing mixed early reviews on social media. While there was product available, the number of dried cannabis items listed online continually shrunk throughout the day.

In the legislature on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the website handled over 38,000 orders after it launched.

Meanwhile in Winnipeg, a private cannabis store was struggling to keep up with online demand as well.

Gary Symons, with Delta 9, said 100 orders were processed in the first minute or so when the company's website went live at midnight and the online store was sold out by 4 a.m.

"Our product is literally flying off the shelves. I've never seen anything like it," he said. "If demand keeps up like this, there is some thought that we could run out of some of these products."

Industry players and watchers had warned to expect product shortages at the outset. Licensed producers and retailers have said it has been a compressed timeline for such a complicated endeavour.

Think-tank C.D. Howe warned in a report last week that current supplies of cannabis in the fourth quarter would only meet between 30 and 60 per cent of total demand, but said this would be "short-lived" as more producers are licensed and production capacities expand over time.

Despite the bumps of the initial rollout, many consumers were ebullient at simply being able to buy a drug that had been prohibited in Canada for nearly 100 years.

When the doors of the cannabis store in Kamloops, B.C., opened at 10 a.m. local time, the line had grown to a few dozen people and a cheer erupted from the crowd. It was the province's first and only government-run cannabis store and Craig McCarthy drove for two hours from Chilliwack to be there, arriving at about 2 a.m.

He has been smoking cannabis for 20 years and normally purchases a form known as shatter from an illegal dispensary. He said he'll buy marijuana online from now on instead of purchasing illegally.

"I'm just happy it's finally here," he said, beaming. "It'll absolutely change my life. It's like a feeling, a weight lifted off your shoulders, when you're constantly hiding it to a degree."

In the first province to start selling cannabis, Ian Power made sure he was first in line on a chilly October night to make a midnight purchase that will likely cement his place in Canadian history.

Outside one of the cannabis shops in St. John's, N.L., that were set to open at 12 a.m. local time on Oct. 17, the 46-year-old knew exactly what he planned to do with his first legally purchased gram.

"I'm having a plaque made with the date and time and everything. This is never actually going to be smoked. I'm going to keep it forever," said Power.

"Who else gets to be first to help ring in the end of prohibition?"

The wind and cold didn't deter a few hundred people from lining up around the block at the private store on Water Street, the main commercial drag in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital.

Cars drove by honking their horns, a few shouting "Happy Cannabis" at the excited crowd.

Newfoundland and Labrador's unique position, with a time zone 30 minutes ahead of the rest of Atlantic Canada, made the night extra special for buyers like Power.

He said he's excited for the stigma around cannabis use and the "stupid stoner" image to change, and for those historic changes to begin in Newfoundland.

"It feels great to have it happen in my home town," Power said.

"A lot of things first happen on the mainland ... but to have it happen in St. John's? That's epic."

Cheers went up inside the stylish, roomy Tweed location as Power and Nikki Rose, another St. John's resident, made their transactions at the stroke of midnight.

Tara O'Reilly, another customer who lined up for the big day, said she doesn't use cannabis personally but she came out to be a part of the historic moment.

"I'm looking forward to buying it and having it as a memory of tonight," she said.

Bruce Linton, CEO of Tweed's parent company, Canopy Growth Corp., flew out to make the first sale at the St. John's location – and he landed on the island just in time, after a nasty storm delayed his flight.

Linton said he was excited to tender the first sale at the Tweed store across from a provincial courthouse, where countless cases over the years have dealt with cannabis-related charges.

The Canopy founder said he's looking forward to the next steps in cannabis research and the developing public conversations around the substance, noting that the first sales are the result of years of advocacy work.

"This is a marked day, but this has been a six- or seven-year build and a whole bunch of people who shouldn't be forgotten," Linton said.

In this province, the Ontario Cannabis Store's website went live around midnight Wednesday as recreational cannabis became legal in the eastern time zone.

The store's landing page asks customers to enter their birth date in order to verify that they're over 19 – the legal age for buying cannabis.

Ontario Cannabis Store

The website offers a selection of cannabis products – including dried flowers and oils  – as well as accessories such as grinders, rolling papers and vaporizers.

And there was more good news for pot aficionados: Hours before a handful of retail outlets opened in the country's easternmost province a federal official told The Associated Press that Canada will pardon all those with convictions for possessing up to 30 grams of marijuana, the now-legal threshold.

Most adult Canadians are now able to buy and use recreational cannabis legally and grow it at home, but how and where depends where they live.

The patchwork of regulations governing marijuana varies between provinces and territories, and some municipalities also have the option of adding their own rules or opting out of retail sales altogether.

Smoking or vaping of cannabis is allowed in public places where tobacco is permitted in many provinces or territories, but others such as Manitoba have a ban on public consumption.

Many Canadians of legal age are also able to grow their own cannabis plants at home – no more than four in most places – but some provinces such as Quebec have chosen to ban personal cultivation.

The dramatic legal and policy shift also has implications for many other facets of Canadian society, ranging from law enforcement and testing for cannabis-impaired drivers to corporate policies governing consumption restrictions for certain industries such as air travel.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada is ready to give up an old system that did not protect young people or communities from organized criminal involvement in the marijuana trade.

Cannabis products such as dried flower, pre-rolled joints and accessories are available for purchase online and in-store, but edibles won't be legal until sometime in 2019.

Whether the selection of cannabis products, and pricing, will be enough to entice existing cannabis users away from the illicit market remains to be seen.