In Yellowknife, cannabis was completely sold out by 5:30pm. In Fort Smith, revenue hit $7,500. In Fort Simpson, sales were steady. In Norman Wells, they were slow.

Day one of legal cannabis in the Northwest Territories saw residents appear undeterred by some of Canada’s highest prices.

In the afternoon, Finance Minister Robert C McLeod told the legislature the NWT had sold $5,000 worth of product by midday – before Fort Smith’s store was even open. He said 122 customers had registered online by that time, placing 37 orders in total.

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There were lineups outside most NWT liquor stores selling the product.

The territory said it had around 30 kilos in total for opening day, but it is unclear how this was distributed among brick-and-mortar and online stores.

Near closing time, we called all of the liquor stores where cannabis is sold to find out how the first day of legalization went.

‘Everybody came out’

Yellowknife and Fort Smith will both need to restock after their busy days, and both expect more supply with different product offerings to be on the shelf on Thursday.

Don Mathew, the manager at the Fort Smith Liquor Store, explained that product is coming from a different supplier, and they are unsure what will be in the order.

Recapping Wednesday, he said: “At 2pm [when the store opened] it was really busy. There was a lineup … the entire length of the store for the first 45 minutes.”

The store remained busy until around 7pm, when it had only a few customers.

Mathew said by the time the NWT Liquor and Cannabis Commission called to check on how the store was doing, it had already sold out of two or three varieties. When Cabin Radio visited at 7pm, four products had been crossed off the list.

“It’s exciting, it’s a new product. It’s good to see so many people come and ask questions,” said Mathew.

“I was afraid that people wouldn’t come in as much, but I think they came out in good numbers today. Considering we’re a small community and people know everybody … that was a worry, but everybody came out.”

A file photo of a cannabis price sheet on October 17 next to a bison bong. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
A cannabis price sheet is pictured on October 17, 2018, next to a bison bong inside Fort Smith’s liquor store. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Things were quite different in Norman Wells, said Adrian Boulet, manager of the liquor store there.

“We were probably the least busy store in the North. We only had a rush for about 20 minutes and then it was pretty much a normal day,” he said.

“It went really smooth, much smoother than we were expecting. Everybody was nervous about the launch date and it was hardly any different than any other day up here.”

Manager Lionel Nadia in Fort Simpson had an average day: “There was a lineup at the door and it was pretty steady throughout the day … it all tapered off around 6pm.”

There was no answer at the Hay River liquor store.

On the territory’s cannabis website, one-gram packages were going for $17.50 – plus $12 for shipping and a small sum added for tax, taking the total to more than $30. By the end of the day, a slightly cheaper strain with a base price of $13.13 had been made available.

In-store prices averaged around $13 per gram, significantly higher than in places like British Columbia ($6.99/gram), Quebec ($5.25/gram), or even the Yukon ($10.09/gram online).

Elder abuse

In the legislature on Wednesday, ministers faced a barrage of questions from MLAs on a variety of cannabis-related topics.

Finance Minister McLeod batted away questions from Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart about the territory’s ability to challenge the black market, saying more time was needed to see how the marketplace fared. However, McLeod was obliged to promise he’d set out the full costs of cannabis legalization to MLAs early next week.

Hay River North MLA RJ Simpson received uncertain answers from Justice Minister Louis Sebert about the presence and effectiveness of roadside testing kits for police across the NWT, while Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu urged the territory to be wary of “increased financial Elder abuse” on the back of legalization. Health Minister Glen Abernethy promised he’d look into it.

Beaulieu also called on the NWT to look at growing cannabis itself, rather than importing from the south as is currently the case.

“We should seriously consider the great potential of our own homegrown companies,” he said. “Just imagine if the majority of the territory’s needs were filled by northern distributors.”