Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2017 – that’s before recreational cannabis was legal in Canada, so language and information in the article may be dated.
Marijuana legalization in Canada is predicated on the relative popularity of cannabis among Canadians, but measuring how many people use an illegal substance is no easy task. Robust recent polling data, however, suggest there may be far more Canadian cannabis users than previously believed.
A telephone survey of 5,000 adults by Oraclepoll Research found that 26 per cent of Canadians aged 18 and older "consume cannabis recreationally."
In its resulting Canadian Cannabis Report, Oraclepoll multiplied that 26 per cent by population figures from the 2016 census to arrive at a figure of 7,613,613 adult recreational cannabis users in Canada.
That's a significant step up from previous estimates of cannabis use in this country. The most recent Statistics Canada data come from 2015, collected as part of that year's Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey of 15,154 Canadians aged 15 and older. That survey found that 44.5 per cent of Canadians had used marijuana at some point in their lifetime, but only 12.3 per cent reported using cannabis in the past year.
Colin Firth, a cannabis marketing consultant who co-produced the Canadian Cannabis Report with Oraclepoll, thinks that research found a higher number of cannabis users because legalization seems increasingly real to Canadians as the date approaches. (The Oraclepoll survey was conducted from July 7 to August 4, 2017, and has a margin of error of 1.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.)
"I honestly believe that now people are open to the realization that (there's) a very good chance that this is going to happen, and they're more willing to admit it now than ever before," said Firth.
"Who knows, maybe by the day before legalization next year that number might even be higher."Advertisement
Nine per cent of all respondents to the Oraclepoll survey said they used cannabis on a daily basis, five per cent weekly, and four per cent monthly. Eight per cent of the total reported using cannabis infrequently or occasionally.
Daily use was highest among British Columbians (13 per cent) and Ontarians (12 per cent), and among respondents aged 18 to 24 (26 per cent) and 25 to 34 (19 per cent). Eight per cent of male respondents and nine per cent of females reported daily use of cannabis.
Oraclepoll's findings suggest daily cannabis use among Canadians could also be much more common than we know. In 2012, Statistics Canada interviewed about 25,000 Canadians aged 15 and older about their mental health and substance use in the Canadian Community Health Survey - Mental Health. That survey found just 1.8 per cent of Canadians reported daily cannabis use.
Statistics Canada data such as the 2012 and 2015 surveys could potentially underestimate the number of Canadian cannabis users and the frequency of their use, because some people are hesitant to tell a government agency about an illegal activity.
"Even though you tell them its a StatsCan survey (and) it's going to be kept confidential, it's not going to anybody, it's not going to the justice system or anything, they're just not going to be willing to give you the information," said James Tebrake, director general of Statistics Canada's macroeconomic accounts branch.
Statistics Canada takes care to adjust its statistics for that possible bias, or simply inform the end users that the statistics may be biased, said Tebrake.
Thirty-nine per cent of respondents to the Oraclepoll survey said they will use cannabis for recreational purposes after legalization, or 11,420,418 adult Canadians when calculated against 2016 census data. Again, that's a much bigger population of future Canadian cannabis users than previously thought.
For example, a 2016 report from investment bank Canaccord Genuity extrapolated from Statistics Canada data to estimate that 4,360,000 Canadians will be marijuana users by the year 2021, or 14.25 per cent of the expected adult population. (They predicted that number could go even higher, though, if more accessible cannabis products such as edibles, oils, and concentrates prove popular among recreational users.)
A 2016 analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office projected that 3.4 million to 6 million Canadians will use cannabis at least once during 2018, when legalization is expected. By 2021, the office predicts that number will rise to as much as 7 million.
Only time will tell whose projections are closer to the mark, but one thing's certain: legalization offers a rare opportunity to collect much more detailed data about how Canadians use cannabis, and Statistics Canada is getting ready.
In a September 2017 paper, the government agency acknowledged the limitations of its cannabis knowledge and described how it's preparing to measure cannabis use after legalization.
"This is quite a social change that the country is going through, so just ... having the information that helps all Canadians understand that, I think, is just going to be beneficial." -James Tebrake, Statistics Canada
StatsCan will start measuring things such as how much cannabis Canadians consume and how often they use it, how much Canadian households spend on cannabis, how much government revenue is earned from taxes on cannabis, how many people are employed in the legal cannabis industry, and how many Canadians are growing their own supply. The price of cannabis will even be figured into Canada's official consumer price index, the measure by which economists track the inflation rate.
"This is quite a social change that the country is going through, so just understanding, having the information that helps all Canadians understand that, I think, is just going to be beneficial," said Tebrake.
"I think as the government — and all levels of government — have to establish regulations, it's going to be very important for them to have as much information as possible to make sure that the regulations are appropriate, that the decisions taken are appropriate."