Canada on Wednesday became the first major world economy to legalize recreational marijuana, beginning a national experiment that will alter the country's social, cultural and economic fabric, and present the nation with its biggest public policy challenge in decades.

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Across the country, as government pot retailers opened from Newfoundland to British Columbia, jubilant Canadians waited for hours in line to buy the first state-approved joints. For many, it was a seminal moment, akin to the ending of Prohibition in the United States in the 1930s.

It was also an unlikely unifier, coming at a time when Canada has been buffeted by bruising trade talks with the United States and has seen its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, repeatedly ridiculed by President Trump. Canada is the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to legalize marijuana.

Canadians broadly support marijuana legalization, but amid the euphoria, there was also caution.

"Legalization of cannabis is the largest public policy shift this country has experienced in the past five decades," said Mike Farnworth, British Columbia's minister of public safety.

"It's an octopus with many tentacles, and there are many unknowns," he added. "I don't think that when the federal government decided to legalize marijuana it thought through all of the implications."

In a stinging editorial published on Monday, for example, the Canadian Medical Association Journal called the government's legalization plan an "uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians."