Survey shows that more Canadians are buying legal weed

Published Jan 9, 2021 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / denozy

The legal market has been struggling against legacy and black-market dealers since the very first moment that legalization became a reality in Canada. This is something that we’ve had a hard time getting a handle on with sneaky tactics such as advertising online so as to keep storefronts and stashes hidden, and it’s a nearly impossible thing to track in its entirety. Still, we try, by asking consumers through various surveys and questionnaires how they feel, shop and consume, and the information that we receive, no matter how skewed, is invaluable.

The survey

To gain an in-depth understanding of cannabis consumers and the industry, Health Canada has developed the Canadian Cannabis Survey which is designed to gather detailed information about all behaviours and habits related to the plant. The annual questionnaire began in 2017, and since then, it’s helped industry and health experts to better understand both how and why consumers do the things that they do when it comes to weed.

The latest survey results which were released on Monday, December 21st, paint a slightly brighter picture than many were expecting especially after getting such grim reports in prior years. According to the answers of participants from last year's questionnaire, approximately 41% of all Canadian cannabis users are buying pot products from legally licensed sources. The steep incline may be in part due to the pandemic, which increased accessibility to products sourced from legal dispensaries.

2019 survey

In 2019, the Canadian Cannabis Survey told a much different story, with an estimated 24% of resident consumers spending their money through legal dispensaries, but this number is no guarantee, and some experts have been saying that the amount of black-market customers is likely quite higher. A result that can come from, including participants who are nervous about being entirely honest about their cannabis-related habits.

Other expert projections


The Canadian Cannabis Survey holds an important place in how we process and understand valuable consumer input, but this isn’t the only list of questions that are circulating in hopes of finding the true answer to questions like this. StatsCan has also released numbers that were calculated based on participant input, and they estimated that as many as 80% of all cannabis consumers shop the black market. This leaves only 20% of the revenue to legal players to compete over, and that’s not exactly promising news.

Is this a big enough change to make a difference for legal players?

We already knew without this announcement that legal dispensaries were reporting record numbers as far as sales and that this is a trend that’s continued since the very beginning of the pandemic. This is largely due to fear and the shutdown of millions of both legal and illegal business owners, funneling all orders neatly through licensed channels.

As time has passed, those high sales figures have levelled out, and many consumers have returned to their pre-pandemic shopping choices. So far, there is no real reason to assume that this trend will grow or even continue on course. It’s a noticeable shift with a solid explanation, but not one that is likely to benefit legal dispensaries or investors long term.

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