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A First Timer’s Guide to Legal Weed in Canada

If you somehow waited until legalization to try cannabis, here’s what you need to know.
Man rolls a joint on the first day of weed legalization in Canada.
Image via CP. 

If legalization is the push you were waiting for to give weed a try, you probably have a few questions about how to go about buying your first gram of lab-tested, legal product, and what to expect after you smoke it.

Since it’s often compared to liquor, you might be imagining the pot-buying experience as similar to a trip to the beer and wine store—but buying weed will be a little (read: a lot) more cumbersome than buying booze. You won’t be able to walk into the store and pick your favourite off the shelf. You won’t be permitted to take your kids inside with you, no matter their age. You can bet ID checks will be militant, and there definitely won’t be any sampling.


If your only experience with cannabis is standing around awkwardly while your friends partake, let this be a guide to both your inaugural purchase and your first time getting high.

Before you buy

Before you make your first purchase, try answering the following question: How do you want to feel after consuming? Uplifted or relaxed? Balanced or focused? Positively floating, or not the slightest bit intoxicated?

Cannabis jargon may seem intimidating, but knowing about the quantity and variety of cannabinoids and terpenes in a given strain will help you determine what you’re looking for. Together, these groups of chemical compounds create the different effects you experience from one variety of cannabis to the next. THC is the most common cannabinoid in cannabis, and is thought to be largely responsible for the “high” users experience. CBD is the slightly less common (but much-buzzed about) cannabinoid that can deliver some of the same therapeutic effects as THC, like relaxation and pain relief, without making you feel stoned.

Cannabinoids work in synergy with terpenes, the aromatic compounds in cannabis that give it its unique smell. When it comes to choosing strains of dried flower for smoking or vaporizing, the best advice I’ve ever gotten from a budtender was to “follow your nose”: If you smell a strain and you enjoy it, you’re likely to enjoy yourself after consuming it, too; but if you recoil, it’s probably not for you. (Depending on where you live, this may be more challenging, as not all jurisdictions are using sniff jars that will allow shoppers to take a whiff before making a purchase.) Here’s a tip: try keeping track of the terpenes in the strains you’re using so you can watch out for them the next time you buy.


You may have also heard the terms “indica” and “sativa” from your stoner-savvy friends, with indica strains described as heavier or more sedating, and sativa strains as more energizing. Most licensed producers still use these terms to describe their products, and you might find in-store displays speaking to these hotly debated classifications, but the truth is most strains on the market today are considered hybrids.

What to buy

As a newbie, you’ll definitely want to avoid getting too high, and that starts with selecting the right product. If you’re buying dried flower to smoke or heat in a vaporizer, you’ll probably want to stick with a strain that’s lower in THC (under 15 percent) and higher in CBD.

A low-THC product will deliver a bit of the euphoria you might be looking for, while the CBD will help keep negative side effects like paranoia at bay. If you’d rather avoid the smoke, ingestible oils and capsules will be available—just be sure to start with low-THC products, especially because when digested, the effects of cannabis can last much longer than from smoking.

How to consume

Once you’ve bought your dried flower, you’ll have to decide how to smoke it. I’d advise all first-timers to avoid a bong or pipe and opt instead for the tried-and-true joint, which you can buy pre-rolled. (Nice glass is an investment I’d put off until you’ve at least learned whether or not you like getting stoned—plus a bong rip could spell disaster if you’ve never smoked at all before.) If you want to reduce the number of carcinogens you’re inhaling, you might invest in a vaporizer, but be prepared to spend a few bills.


When it comes time to smoke, abide by the golden rule of cannabis consumption: Start low and go slow. If you’re smoking a joint, take one puff, and wait 10 to 15 minutes. This might seem overly cautious, but it will allow to you pay close attention to how your body reacts, while reducing the likelihood of any uncomfortable side effects. For oils and capsules, the same rule applies: Start with a product that is low in THC and only consume more when you feel like you’re ready.

While edibles haven’t been legislated just yet—that’s meant to come in a year’s time—you might be tempted to take home that eighth and bake some edibles of your own. Instead, I’d suggest buying an oil-based product and adding it to food or a drink. (Remember that whole ‘start low and go slow’ thing?) Starting with a measured dose means you’re less likely to be unpleasantly surprised. The art of baking your own infused brownies is a skill that takes practice, but if you’re keen to try it, there are some excellent kitchen appliances that make making weed butter a breeze.

Where to buy

The act that legalized cannabis may be federal legislation, but with each province in charge of its own distribution and retail framework, buying weed in Ontario will look vastly different than it does in Alberta or New Brunswick. Here’s where you’ll be able to access cannabis across Canada:

BC: In one public store (Kamloops) and online.


Alberta: In 17 private stores (Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, etc.) and online.

Saskatchewan: At least two-thirds of the province’s 51 private stores won’t be ready for opening day. Private retailers will operate their own online stores, but no other information has been released.

Manitoba: Available in six stores, mostly in Winnipeg, and online.

Ontario: Private retail stores will be established by the spring of 2019, but the only place for Ontarians to purchase cannabis right away will be online.

Quebec: In 12 public stores and online.

New Brunswick: In 20 public stores and online.

Prince Edward Island: In three public stores (a fourth will open in November) and online.

Nova Scotia: In 12 public stores and online.

Newfoundland and Labrador: In 30 private storefronts and online.

Yukon: In one store and online.

Northwest Territories: In five stores and online.

Nunavut: Online, or over the phone only.

What to expect

Now that you’ve got your weed, you’ll want to make some decisions about where to get high, and whether or not you’ll want to have company. Make sure you’re in a place and with people that make you feel safe—a private residence is generally the best option given the smoking restrictions that have been put in place in some jurisdictions. If you’re on your own, let an experienced friend know of your plans and have their number nearby.

Occupy yourself with TV or video games, something to keep your mind from wandering, and definitely have some snacks on hand for when the inevitable munchies kick in. Prepare yourself for the effects: you might find your body feeling lighter, or more relaxed. It’s very likely your mouth will get dry, so have some water nearby, too.

And, if you do find yourself teetering between “just right” and “way too fucking high,” keep in mind that no matter how miserable you might feel, you’re definitely not going to die.

Amanda Siebert is a freelance cannabis writer and the author The Little Book of Cannabis: How Marijuana Can Improve Your Life.

Follow Amanda on Twitter.

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