One of the most pervasive arguments against progressive drug policy reform is that legalization and decriminalization will inevitably lead to higher rates of drug consumption. Make a previously prohibited (and therefore risky) activity safer, more accessible and better regulated, so this line of reasoning goes, and more people are going to do it. It’s the same logic at work when people criticize needle exchange programs, or sex education or free access to birth control. But a new report from StatCan, a Canadian government agency tracking cannabis consumer data, shows how unfounded such assumptions are. According to the report, legalization hasn’t made more Canadians spark up.
About As Many People Are Smoking Weed After Legalization As Before
Tracking new trends in consumer behavior is crucial to understanding the rapidly growing cannabis market. New consumer groups are transforming the industry, and it’s important to know who they are. Thursday morning, Canada’s national statistics office, StatCan, released figures obtained from the fourth quarter of its National Cannabis Survey. The data set covers from mid-November, about a month into legalization, and mid-December.
Over that period, about 4.6 million Canadians aged 15 and older reported using cannabis within the previous three months. (The minimum legal age for cannabis consumption in Canada is 18, though some provinces have set it at 19.) That’s about 15 percent of all Canadians over 15. Canada has the highest use rate in the world. But legalization doesn’t seem to have affected use rates much, at least not yet. About 4.6 million Canadians reported cannabis use in the months leading up to legalization, too.
Things could soon change, however. According to the StatCan figures, 19 percent of Canadians over 15 said they think they will consume cannabis sometime in the next three months. This data could suggest that legalization’s impact on use rates is just beginning. But it also shows that people who never or rarely consume cannabis, and those who frequently do, aren’t going to change their habits in the next three months. Rather, former cannabis consumers and those who do so only occasionally were the most likely to report plans to increase their consumption.
Medical vs. Non-Medical Use Is Influencing Consumption Patterns More than Legalization
For now, however, the number of people who are consuming cannabis in Canada after legalization is about the same as it was before. But what’s having a much larger impact on consumption behavior is medical vs. “non-medical” cannabis use. (In this case, non-medical just means without official patient documentation.)
According to StatCan, medical cannabis consumers are much more likely to use cannabis daily or almost daily. They’re also less likely to smoke weed, opting for edible or other delivery methods. Furthermore, medical users were more likely to report spending on cannabis compared with those who consume for non-medical reasons.
Other interesting consumption patterns emerged when looked at along the medical vs. non-medical line. Nearly half of the 15 percent who reported cannabis use said they used it purely for recreational reasons. Only a quarter said their cannabis use was for medical reasons only (with or without official documentation). The other quarter used cannabis for both purposes.
And those with medical documentation are consuming cannabis the most. Or at least reporting their use the most. Other patterns reflect consumer trends across the legal industry in North America. Men still consume cannabis at higher rates and are less likely than women to do so for medical reasons. But some are different. In the U.S., Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers are spending the most on cannabis. But in Canada, 18-to-24-year-olds have had a highest prevalence of cannabis use over the last three months than any other group.
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