This brief provides a preliminary synthesis of Canada’s experience with cannabis legalization in the first year of retail sales. The brief focuses on evidence available to indicate progress against the public health and safety objectives of the Cannabis Act.

Summary

  • Canada’s relationship with legal cannabis is evolving. The market is still developing, and the pending introduction of new product formats means that Canada can expect to see considerable changes in both retail and consumer behaviour at least into the next year.
  • The National Cannabis Survey* indicates that Canadians’ use of cannabis has been fluctuating both before and after legalization among both youth and adult age groups. However, the changes in use have varied by reporting quarter.
  • More people are trying cannabis following legalization. Since legalization, those trying cannabis for the first time are more likely to be older (e.g., 45 years of age and up) compared to those trying for the first time before legalization.
  • More information is needed to better understand the nature of any increases in use, including whether the older population is seeking products with higher CBD due to beliefs about possible health benefits.
  • The National Cannabis Survey also indicated a significant decrease in Canadians accessing cannabis directly from the illegal market or from friends and family following legalization.
  • Revenues from cannabis sales have been significantly lower than anticipated.
  • The legislated three-year review of the Cannabis Act provides an opportunity for critical review of the nature and implementation of the regulations, and to make course corrections.
  • Looking forward, priority areas for education about lower-risk use include the difference between ingested and inhaled products, and the effects of impairment on driving and in the workplace.

Context

  • The Cannabis Act permitted the sale of cannabis within a legal regulatory system as of October 17, 2018.
  • The federal government is responsible for issuing production, processing, import/export, testing and research licences.
  • The provinces and territories are responsible for retail sales and distribution. Each province and territory established a unique approach, with considerable variation among them in terms of public versus private sales, licensing, number and distribution of retail stores, oversight bodies, pricing and taxation, supply, and places of consumption, for example.