Montreal - The French-speaking province of Quebec has opted for a government-owned system of stores modelled after the provincial liquor board.
The immaculately stacked shelves behind the counter at the government-owned store in the trendy Plateau neighbourhood are lined with offerings such as Tangerine Dream, Great White Shark and Banana Split.
Montreal's Jean-Francois Bergeron breathes a sigh of relief as he shows reporters the fruits of his last 11 months of labour, offering a sneak peek at what consumers will see at 10 am (1400 GMT) Wednesday when they step inside to browse through some 110 cannabis products.
At midnight on Wednesday, Canada will become the first OECD country to legalize recreational use of cannabis, allowing Canadians over the age of 18 or 19, depending on the province they reside in, to legally buy, smoke and ingest cannabis and cannabis-based products.
"We are very ready," Bergeron, vice-president of Quebec's liquor board, told reporters Tuesday as he offered a tour of one of the three government-owned cannabis stores that will open their doors to consumers in Montreal on Wednesday.
"We are ready from a store perspective, as well as from an e-commerce perspective. We have the inventory, we have the stock on site."
Bergeron said they hope to be able to eventually offer a total of about 180 products in the form of dried flower, ground cannabis, pre-rolled joints, oil, oral spray, pills or gel caps.
"The mission is not to promote consumption, but to promote responsible consumption, to promote education and fact-based information," Bergeron said. "[There is] no lifestyle, no promotion, no loyalty programs. It's really to distribute - in a safe manner - the product across Quebec."
Recreational cannabis legalization was one of the main campaign promises of the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when it came to power almost three years ago. Medical cannabis available through government-licenced suppliers has been legal in Canada since 2001.
The federal legislation allows individuals aged 18 and older to grow four marijuana plants in their own home for personal use - except in Manitoba and Quebec - and establishes a public possession limit of 30 grams of dried cannabis.
It also sets out parameters around the production, safety standards, distribution and sale of the drug, as well as creating new criminal offences for selling cannabis to minors.
Trudeau has argued legalization is the only way to undercut the multi-billion dollar illicit marijuana industry currently controlled by organized crime groups.
Critics of the legislation, however, say it will do nothing to undercut the illegal cannabis market and has no mechanisms to ensure that the organized crime does not infiltrate the legal production market.
Bergeron said they expect to capture about 30 per cent of the black market in Quebec in the first year of operation, which represents about 50 metric tonnes of cannabis.
The Canadian Medical Association slammed the federal legislation as a "national, uncontrolled experiment" that pits the profits of cannabis producers and government tax revenues against community health.
Investment in cannabis firms has risen substantially over the past year in anticipation of legalization, with new producers popping up across the country, according to an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal published Monday.
"Their goal is profit, and profit comes from sales - sales of a drug that, according to Health Canada, will cause a problem in nearly one in three adult users and an addiction in close to one in 10, with higher risks in youth," the editorial stated.
Bergeron, however, said it's clear to him that licenced stores such as the ones operated by the government-owned Societe quebecoise du cannabis (SQDC) in Quebec offer a safer alternative than what currently exists on the black market.
"I prefer my children to buy their product at an SQDC with a seal and a controlled product than [go] to the pusher, to the corner of the street without knowing where the product comes from, all the contaminants and also maybe advertising for other products than cannabis," he said.dpa