Cannabis consumption grew in 2020, Statistics Canada data suggests

Recent reported cannabis use was much higher in the final quarter of 2020 than two comparable periods in 2018 and 2019, according to a new Statistics Canada report that studied pre- and post-legalization consumption trends.

The report, however, cautions against attributing the increase to the impact of COVID-19, saying the pandemic’s effect on cannabis use “continues to be difficult to measure.”

“Monitoring remains important, given the ever-changing provincial retail landscapes; the introduction of new products; and the pressure by the industry to remove or adjust potency limits, and allow widespread delivery, farm-gate sales and cannabis lounges,” according to the report, which was written by Michelle Rotermann of Statistics Canada’s Health Analysis Division.

The report’s findings were derived from a study that included up to 16,467 respondents aged 15 or older, and paint a picture of legalization’s impact on consumption amid a maturing legal cannabis industry.

At the end of last year, 20% of Canadians aged 15 or older – or nearly 6.2 million people – reported cannabis use in the previous three months, according to Statistics Canada.

That is higher than the comparable periods in the previous two years.

In the first quarter of 2018, before legalization, that figure stood at 14%, rising to 17.5% in the first quarter of 2019.

Canada’s legal recreational cannabis market launched in October 2018.

The study found that consumption rates were comparable by gender in 2020, a change from previous years when more males than females reported recent cannabis consumption.

“The elimination of the gender gap in overall use as well as (daily or almost daily) use, is almost without precedent,” according to the report.

“It seems to be the result not of reduced use among males, but rather of increased use by females, and this has perhaps been facilitated by the introduction of a wider variety of cannabis products that appeal to women.”

Reported daily or almost daily use rose sharply between 2018 and 2020.

By late last year, almost 8% of Canadians reported using cannabis daily or almost daily, an increase from 5.4% before legalization and 6.1% in 2019.

All adult age groups showed a substantial increase.

Among those in the 18 to 24 age group in 2018, 28.1% reported using cannabis in the past three months. In late 2020, that rose to 35.6%.

In the 25 to 44 age group in 2018, some 21% reported cannabis consumption in the previous three months. That rose to 30% at the end of 2020.

For Canadians 45 and older, 10.5% reported recent cannabis consumption in late 2020, an increase over 2018’s 7%.

Cannabis use in the past three months varied widely by province.

Survey respondents in Nova Scotia topped the list: In late 2020, 27.3% of Nova Scotians reported consuming cannabis in the past three months.

Quebec respondents reported the lowest use, with only 10.6% reporting cannabis use in that time.

British Columbia was second with 24.8%.

The report cites a number of factors that support continued growth in consumption rates, including:

  • Cannabis is easier to buy legally. Physical stores, in addition to online legal suppliers, have increased nearly eightfold since legalization in late 2018.
  • Rates of overall use grew in 2019. This past behavior, plus easier access and more legal product choices, “can be predictive of future actions,” the report says.
  • Consumption increased in most U.S. jurisdictions with legalized recreational use and commercial retail, the report notes.

The report also looked where Canadians accessed their cannabis.

The percentage of respondents who grew their own almost doubled.

In early 2018, that figure stood at 8%. In the final quarter of 2020 that had grown to 14.2%.

Just over 51% of respondents accessed cannabis from an illegal source in 2018. That dropped to 35.4% by the end of last year.

Almost 23% accessed cannabis from a legal source in early 2018, rising to 68.4% by the end of 2020.

“More Canadians reported obtaining cannabis legally in 2020 than in 2018 and 2019, and fewer were also using illegally sourced cannabis than before legalization in October 2018,” according to the report.

Read the report here.