How has Canada's cannabis use changed since legalization and the pandemic?
A customer walks into a Cannabis dispensary on Queen St. in Toronto, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
EDMONTON -- The number of Canadians who consume cannabis both occasionally and regularly is on the rise – and there is some evidence to suggest the COVID-19 pandemic may be inspiring some to indulge more often.
By late 2020, one in five Canadians (20 per cent) reported having used cannabis in the past three months; an increase from the 14 per cent of people who reported use before legalization and the 18 per cent who used cannabis in the months following legalization in 2018.
Daily or almost daily use also increased to 7.9 per cent, up from 6.1 per cent in 2019 and 5.4 per cent in 2018.
The findings stem from a Statistics Canada study, released Wednesday, which used data spanning the last three years, from before legalization to about two years after, to understand changes in Canadians' cannabis habits.
According to the National Cannabis Survey (NCS), smoking remains the most common method of consumption, with 58 per cent of users reporting it as the method they use most often. But edibles are on the rise, with 41 per cent of consumers opting to ingest their cannabis by the fourth quarter of 2020, compared with less than one-third in 2019 and 2018.
The study, which includes NCS data collected in the fourth quarter of 2020, sheds more light on consumption patterns that may be due, in part, to the pandemic.
More Canadians started growing their own cannabis in 2020, for example, with 14 per cent of users opting for a homegrown source, compared to just eight and nine per cent in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
In March, a separate NCS survey revealed that 34 per cent of cannabis users increased their consumption during the pandemic, citing stress, boredom, loneliness, and ease of access as reasons for indulging more frequently.
Statistics Canada notes that regular monitoring will be required to determine whether the upward trend in cannabis use continues after larger proportions of the population are vaccinated and regular daily life resumes.
WHAT ABOUT ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION?
Ironically, the latest data on Canadian alcohol sales points to the first decrease in volume in six years, but these figures relate to the year ending March 31, 2020 – the first two weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Retail sales data compiled by Statistics Canada shows that alcohol sales in March 2020 were up 17.5 per cent from the previous month and 19.2 per cent compared with sales in March 2019 – a surge Statistics Canada says may be due in part to panic buying in the initial stages of the first wave of COVID-19.
But total beer sales by liquor stores, agencies and other retail outlets fell 1.9 per cent to $9.2 billion during the fiscal year 2019/2020, the largest sales decline since 1994.
The report notes that current retail sales data shows an increase in alcohol sales for the 10-month period from April 2020 to January 2021.
“If this trend continues, sales for the year ending March 2021—the first full year of alcohol sales that reflect pandemic-related purchasing habits—will have increased significantly from the year before,” reads the report.
Pandemic data suggests that heavy drinking overall has increased in Canada, but nearly as many alcohol users are scaling back as they are drinking more.
Similar to cannabis, many who drank more pointed to increased stress, boredom and loneliness, with 36 per cent reporting five or more drinks at a time at least once a week in the previous 30 days, according to Statistics Canada.