Canadians spent as much as $6.2 billion on cannabis in 2015, according to a Statistics Canada report published on Monday as part of the agency’s attempts to get a handle on the socioeconomic impacts of recreational weed sales before the legal market opens next year.
“There is currently no systematic process for measuring cannabis consumption,” the agency said in a news release. “it is necessary to adjust Canada's national statistical system to measure the economic and social impacts of legalized cannabis.”
The study is the first of its kind that looked at the amount of cannabis being consumed across the country from 1960 to 2015.
According to surveys and behavioural analyses, the agency found that the volume of cannabis sales has increased over that time period, although the age groups consuming the most amounts have shifted.
For instance, more young people consumed cannabis in Canada during the 1960s and 1970s, however by last year, less than six percent of consumers were between the ages of 15 and 17 years old. By 2015, two-thirds of the estimated 4.9 million medical and recreational cannabis consumers in the country were 25 or older.
The compositional change in the cannabis market is consistent with a change where the baby boomer cohort was exposed to cannabis in high school and university, and carried a preference for cannabis consumption with them as they aged.1
That year, the agency estimates people in Canada bought 700 tonnes of cannabis. That’s worth about 50 percent to 75 percent of the $9.2 billion beer market, the study noted. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has predicted that people in Canada will consume between 378 and 1,017 tonnes of cannabis during the first year of legalization.
Consulting firm Deloitte Canada has estimated that Canada’s recreational cannabis sales could reach $8.7 billion upon legalization, with that number climbing to $22.6 billion when ancillary services such as security are considered.
A recent report from the Brightfield Group cannabis research firm estimates that the global cannabis market could reach more than $31 billion by 2021 as more jurisdictions relax restrictions on the drug.
Until legalization comes into effect in Canada, only those with cannabis prescriptions can legally purchase cannabis in flower or oil form from one of the 80 companies licensed by Health Canada to grow and sell the products. Earlier this year, the department said that 130,000 Canadians registered with the licensed producers (LPs), a 32 percent spike from the 98,000 registered in 2015.
The LPs will also be allowed to supply the future recreational market, and the Health Minister is toying with the idea of allowing small firms, or “craft growers,” to participate for the first time.
There’s ongoing debate over whether Canada will be able to meet the recreational demand, similar to what happened in Colorado after it opened its legal market in 2014.
“There will be at least 700,000 users that want to consume weed almost immediately after legalization,” Jacob Securities analyst Khurram Malik previously told VICE Money.
"That’s a huge jump for legal demand, and there is definitely not enough capacity for that right now."