Canada was not the first country to legalize cannabis for adult use. That title goes to Uruguay, which legalized cannabis for adult use five years before Canada did the same. However, Canada was the first G-7 nation to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes and implemented the most robust, regulated adult-use industry on earth. As such, there is much for the world to learn from Canada’s cannabis policy experiences.
Since 2017, Canada’s government has conducted an annual cannabis survey. The report is very insightful because Canada legalized cannabis for adult use in 2018. The purpose of the survey is to examine “patterns of use, such as the quantities of cannabis consumed and the use of cannabis for medical purposes; the cannabis market, such as sources of cannabis and pricing; and issues of public safety, such as impaired driving.”
What Were Some Big Takeaways From The Survey?
Survey participants were specifically asked about how they felt regarding access to “trustworthy information” about the potential health risks of cannabis. A significant majority (73%) reported ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly agreeing that they had such access. That was a decrease from the prior year (2020), in which 77% of survey participants expressed similar views. Twenty-five percent of people reported using cannabis in the past 12 months, a decrease from the previous year (27%).
Unfortunately, it appears that government efforts to educate consumers are failing. A new question was added to this year’s survey regarding whether or not consumers have seen the government’s ‘cannabis consumer information sheet.’ Only 10% of this year’s survey respondents indicated that they had seen the sheet online, displayed at a dispensary, or had it provided to them at the time of making a purchase.
The survey asked participants if they had cultivated cannabis within the last year, to which 6% of respondents answered in the affirmative. Seven percent of respondents indicated that they had made their own edibles within the last year. The survey indicated that there is still quite a bit of stigma regarding cannabis use compared to alcohol, with 89% of survey participants indicating that it was socially acceptable to consume alcohol occasionally, whereas only 67% felt the same regarding occasional cannabis smoking. By comparison, only 49% thought it was socially acceptable to smoke tobacco occasionally.
The Canadian Experiment
As of right now, there are only three countries that are nearly universally accepted by the international cannabis community as having legalized cannabis for adult use—Canada and Uruguay, of course, and Malta, which recently signed legalization legislation into law. Out of the three countries, Canada has the largest population by far. Canada is home to roughly 38 million people, whereas Uruguay and Malta have combined populations of only roughly 4 million people.
In addition to having a much larger population, Canada also has a much more robust legalization model, at least from an industry standpoint. Malta will not have any regulated adult-use sales, and Uruguay has historically limited adult-use purchases to residents only. Compare that to Canada, where anyone of legal age can purchase online or at storefront retailers.
It’s likely a safe bet that as more countries legalize cannabis, especially larger countries, they will implement cannabis industry rules and regulations more in line with Canada’s approach versus the approaches taken by Uruguay and Malta. As such, any data and observations that come out of Canada in the coming years will be extremely valuable to international policymakers and regulators, and Canada’s annual cannabis survey will be at the forefront of that highly-anticipated information.
Johnny Green is the Media and Content Director for the International Cannabis Business Conference. Upcoming conferences include Barcelona (March 10th), Berlin (July 19-20th), and Zurich (September 8-9).