Ian Power became one of the first people in Canada in nearly a century to own a gram of legal recreational cannabis.

The 46-year-old from St. John’s arrived outside Canopy Growth Corp.’s Tweed store at 8:30 p.m Tuesday. By midnight, when the sale of non-medical cannabis officially became legal in Canada, he was the first of more than 130 customers lined up outside the store on Water Street downtown.

Mr. Power had waited not just hours − but years − for the chance, after more than three decades of black-market marijuana purchases.

“I think it’s one of the biggest moments of my life,” he said. “There’s a tear in my eye. No more back alleys.”

The first purchase, rung in by Canopy chief executive officer Bruce Linton at five seconds after midnight, was paid for by Nikki Rose, 24, who bought one gram for Mr. Power and three grams for herself at a total cost of $49.98 after tax.

For Mr. Power, it didn’t all go according to plan. He had intended to buy a strain called Highlands but it wasn’t on the menu. Instead, he selected a gram of Donegal, which is where his family is from in Ireland.

A lack of Day 1 selection has been a concern for retailers across the country, even as relatively few brick-and-mortar stores will be open to kick off the new era. British Columbia, for example, has only one storefront opening on Wednesday, Alberta could have fewer than two dozen, Ontario will have none and Quebec is expected to open 12 outlets. Consumers will be able to buy cannabis online.

The Cannabis Act ushers in a profound shift in public policy that will see Canada become the first G7 country to legalize and regulate marijuana for recreational use. But legalization has many critics. Some argue that potential health, public safety and addiction risks are significant and warn that public consumption of the drug could make it more appealing and accessible to minors.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is fulfilling a promise made during the 2015 election campaign. Since then, Ottawa has stated that its goals for the new legalization regime are to displace a thriving illicit market, curb youth use and offer a safer supply to adults.

“Obviously, this is a big change in policy that is going to have hiccups and challenges and we are working to minimize those,” Mr. Trudeau said in an interview Monday with The Globe and Mail. “I think people will understand that this is something that we are doing in a very thoughtful way that is going to do a better job of protecting our kids and of defunding the criminals who are making exorbitant amounts of money off it.”

The new legal industry is attempting to gain legitimacy and scale at home while plotting to grow globally as more countries ease restrictions on medical cannabis. For the past year, public cannabis companies have captivated investors and raised billions on speculation about how big the market could be. Starting Wednesday, investors and industry watchers will get a glimpse into the reality of supply, demand and pricing.

Early signs indicate that many producers are stumbling out of the gate. Earlier this month, four provincial distributors, including B.C. and Nova Scotia, warned that there will initially be less inventory and variety available to consumers than expected, because growers have shipped fewer products.

On Tuesday, National Access Cannabis CEO Mark Goliger said that a shortage of product would keep the company’s one Winnipeg location closed until late afternoon on Wednesday as it attempts to secure more inventory.

On a plane to St. John’s hours before the first sale, Canopy’s Mr. Linton was reflective, talking about how far the company has come, how it was on the verge of bankruptcy three times, how difficult it was to raise money and how nothing went as planned.

“I don’t really know what’s going to happen,” he said. “The whole thing about being in the marijuana sector is I’ve yet to have anything that’s happened in the way that we thought it was going to happen. Everything’s happened sideways, backward, faster, slower.”

And what does he expect for Day 1?

“I think there’s going to be a line-up around the block and shelves are going to be empty quickly,” he said. “Your first steps are usually never pretty. But you just got to take the first steps.”

Mr. Power, who is unemployed, said he hopes legalization will end the stigma around marijuana.

“Cannabis advocacy hasn’t been good for my career,” he said. “People don’t want that stupid stoner. I think not immediately, but in five years, there won’t be the stigma of the stupid stoner any more. That’s what it means for me. Getting rid of that stupid stoner.”

As for his first legal gram, Mr. Power said he wasn’t going to smoke it. Instead, he said he plans to mount the cannabis on a plaque in his family room.

Christina Pellegrini flew from Ottawa to Newfoundland on Canopy’s private plane. The Globe and Mail is reimbursing Canopy for the equivalent of a ticket on a commercial flight.

With reports from Barrie McKenna, Marina Strauss and Darren Calabrese.

The Globe and Mail, October 16, 2018