SYDNEY, N.S. -- Ashley MacIsaac says he's spent 25 years feeling like a criminal, but he doesn't have to feel that way anymore.

The 43-year-old Cape Breton-born fiddler has spent decades bringing his particular brand of rock-infused Celtic music to audiences across the country, and along the way has been a frequent cannabis user.

"I was doing things that I thought would make people happy -- that's what you do as an entertainer -- but at the same time I had to consider myself a criminal," MacIsaac said Wednesday in a phone interview from Sydney River, N.S.

The virtuoso fiddler was first in line at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. branch, which was set to become the only legal place to buy recreational marijuana on Cape Breton Island on Wednesday as legalization rolled out across the country.

"I don't need to be a criminal anymore, and that's a great feeling," he said. "And my new dealer is the prime minister!"

Canada embarked on a new era of legal recreational cannabis Wednesday, with the federal government also expected to use the occasion to make it easier for Canadians to get pardons for something that is no longer illegal.

MacIsaac was arrested in Saskatchewan in July of 2001 and charged with possession, but was given an absolute discharge a few months later by what he a called "a very considerate and understanding judge.

"It was for such a small amount ... I was arrested for hardly anything," MacIsaac said. "But that type of thing shouldn't happen anymore."

MacIsaac spent a chilly night alone outside the NSLC, but by Wednesday morning there were half a dozen other customers lined up to take part. He said the atmosphere was festive.

"People seem very friendly and happy and excited that a long, long overdue prohibition has come to a close," he said.

MacIsaac said he hopes to introduce his own branded cannabis products, but for now he's playing the "long game" as the national marketplace takes shape.

"I hope someday that, just like you can buy a Wayne Gretzky wine, you can buy an Ashley MacIsaac-branded marijuana," he said.

-- By Adam Burns in Toronto