British Columbians purchased the equivalent of 400 million joints as cannabis sales doubled in 2020 from 2019.
These figures appear in a new report prepared for the provincial government. The report also found buyers are increasingly paying less for a stronger buzz as available cannabis products have become more potent.
The report prepared by the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) offers what it calls “a preliminary snapshot” of sales in the licensed cannabis market from the time of legalization in late 2018 up to December 2020.
Annual legal cannabis sales in B.C. rose to 129 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per person over 15 (a standard for controlled substances) in 2020 from 64 mg. The provincial government in 2020 sold 8,000 kg of THC through the wholesale, retail and online market, generating about $290 million in gross revenue, with the trendline pointing up.
For example, licensed trade sales in British Columbia increased by 139 per cent in December 2020 compared to December 2019.
This provincial trendline mirrors the national picture. Estimates peg overall licensed retail sales of recreational cannabis in Canada at nearly $300 million for December 2020, up from $148 million sold in that same month in 2019.
While the report does not include a list of specific recommendations, it predicts that sales will likely rise following the announcement that the province will allow private retailers to offer home delivery of cannabis starting July 15.
“As cannabis sales by the B.C. government expand, we hope that there is a balance between consumer preferences, revenue considerations and public health,” said Dr. Tim Naimi, lead researcher. Examples of such strong policy solutions might include cannabis-specific taxes, minimum prices per gram of THC and potency restrictions, he added.
That last point looms especially large in the report as the potency for flower and pre-roll cannabis products, accounting for 84 per cent of all sales, has increased since legalization. At the same, the median sales-weighted price for flower and pre-roll has decreased, meaning consumers are buying increasingly cheaper and stronger products.
They are also pre-dominantly buying from private retailers. They outnumber government-run stores by 10 to 1 and sell four times as much THC.
British Columbians could buy cannabis products from 270 private retailers and 25 government stores in December 2020, up from 128 private stores and 11 government stores in December 2019.
The report comes with one notable caveat. Data in the report is limited to official government statistics. “(There) remains a substantial unregulated/illicit market (either online or in unlicensed retail outlets) and also permitted homegrown cannabis,” it reads.
The report also outlines different avenues for future analysis. Such potential areas include calculating what the report calls the “outlet density” of government and licensed private outlets per capita and by health authority and health service delivery areas.
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