HALIFAX — Atlantic Canadians lined up early Wednesday, many in frigid temperatures, to be a part of Canadian cannabis history — including some who said they don't even use the stuff.
"I'm looking forward to buying it and having it as a memory of tonight," said Tara O'Reilly, a non-user who stood outside Canopy Growth Corp.'s Tweed store in downtown St. John's, where weed went on sale at 12:01 a.m. local time.
The wind and cold didn't deter a few hundred people from lining up around the block on Water Street, the city's main commercial drag, to be among the first buyers in Canada.
Cars drove by honking their horns, a few shouting "Happy Cannabis" at the excited crowd.
In Fredericton, meanwhile, people arriving early got a surprise when Cannabis NB stores opened at 8 a.m., two hours before expected.
People leaving the store said they were impressed with the experience.
"It seemed like a novelty to walk into a store and it's totally fine and it's totally legal," said Lauren Sturgeon, 25, of Fredericton. "This is totally surreal, but in a good way."
In Halifax, Joseph Brown, 23, was the first in line outside Nova Scotia's pristine new cannabis store in the city's downtown core, waiting more than two hours to enter.
"It's a monumental occasion. I mean, weed has been illegal for decades," he said.
However, Brown said he doesn't expect to be a frequent customer. "It kind of gives me anxiety. I just wanted to come the first day."
Meanwhile, Colin Jarvis, 24, said he was pleased to get background information on the drug from the sales associates.
"It's good for people who don't know what they're going to be smoking. They were really knowledgeable people in there," he said.
He bought a brand with a high potency of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, referred to as ultra sour diesel, saying he was looking forward to trying it in the privacy of his own home.
A bit earlier, in a purchase staged for the media, Alicia Wright, 38, was guided from an initial check-in screen where she described her main goals in smoking marijuana to a choice of milder "recreational" marijuana designed to relax her.
Clerk Alex Johnson suggested namaste, grown by Zenabis in Canada. Another sales associate explained it was made in small batches and is hand-trimmed.
After making her $45.15 purchase for 3.5 grams, she said it was a bit of a strange feeling to be purchasing marijuana in tidy little brown bags in the pristine and "clinical" environment of the shop. That included some papers and a grinder for the weed.
"Everyone is very happy and helpful," said Wright, owner of a nearby massage therapy and yoga studio.
The infrequent purchaser said she noticed a huge variety, and "accessible" prices, but wondered if it might be cheaper elsewhere.
"I've noticed they (the prices) go quite high," she said.
The steady business continued through the day in all four provinces.
The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation reported overall sales worth $393,000 as of 5 p.m. with $20,450 of that figure in online sales.
In neighbouring New Brunswick, Brian Harriman, president of Cannabis NB, said he was pleased with the first day turnout.
"We've been seeing this right across the province. Between 30 and 50 people in the line and on average a 35 to 45 minute wait time to get through, but once people are in the stores they're finding it really efficient."
Cannabis NB had more than 900 sales online by early afternoon.
By late afternoon officials in Prince Edward Island reported 915 in store purchases and 185 online orders.
In St. John's, 46-year-old Ian Power made sure he was first in line to make a midnight purchase that will likely cement his place in Canadian history.
He knew exactly what he planned to do with his first legally purchased gram — and it wasn't smoking it.
"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?"
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.
"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.
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.
Another Water Street store, The Natural Vibe, opened to slightly less fanfare than Tweed, but a line of customers still stretched down the street, with some saying waiting in line was "akin to Disney World."
By 11:30 a.m. the store was only selling ingestible cannabis oils, after selling out of all other cannabis products.
Owner Megan Kennedy said her store is waiting on more products to arrive in the next few days, but doesn't have a confirmed date yet.
"I don't think we thought it would be this busy," Kennedy said.
One of Newfoundland and Labrador's outspoken cannabis retailers said he sold out of his cannabis supply in quick order, and he didn't anticipate receiving more products until next week.
Thomas Clarke opened his store, Thomas H. Clarke's Distribution, at midnight in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, N.L. but said he was turning away customers by the next 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, and sold all the flower packages as the day unfolded.
Clarke said he was disappointed to have to turn away potentially thousands of customers and to have to send his part-time staff home early.
- With files by Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's and Kevin Bissett in Fredericton
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press