Canadians consumed significantly more weed in the final three months of 2020 compared to the previous two years, according to new data.
On Wednesday, Statistics Canada released a report aimed at uncovering before-and-after legalization consumption trends that found a sharp rise in weed use in the fourth quarter of 2020 — especially among women.
But the study’s author warns it’s still too early to attribute climbing consumption rates to Covid-related stress, citing the impact of the pandemic on cannabis use continues to be difficult to measure.
A Canadian Red Cross study last year found that Canadians were consuming 15 per cent more weed, which was associated with the rise of economic uncertainty and feelings of hopelessness and anxiety during the global health crisis.
Instead, Michelle Rotermann with the health analysis division at StatsCan says the study’s goal is to examine the complete picture on how the legal industry affects use overall as it matures.
“Monitoring remains important, given the ever-changing provincial retail landscapes; the introduction of new products; and the pressure by the industry to remove or adjust potency limits, and allow widespread delivery, farm-gate sales and cannabis lounges,” she wrote.
The study includes findings from the annual National Cannabis Survey, which polled up to 16,467 respondents age 15 or older.
In the fourth quarter of last year, 20 per cent of Canadians over 15 years old said they used weed at least once in the previous three months. That’s the equivalent of nearly 6.2 million people consuming pot in the age group.
This was higher than both the 14 per cent usage rate reported before legalization in the first quarter of 2018, and the 17.5 per cent reported rate in the first quarter of 2019.
Overall, cannabis use rates in Canada jumped 43 per cent in 2020 compared to use rates prior to legalization in 2018.
Daily or almost daily use also climbed higher between 2018 and 2020.
At the end of last year, about 8 per cent of Canadians reported using cannabis daily or almost daily, an increase from 5.4 per cent before legalization and 6.1 per cent in 2019.
Breaking down cannabis use by gender, age, province and source
In previous surveys, more males reported recent cannabis consumption than females.
But the new study found that recent use rates were both one in five in 2020.
“The elimination of the gender gap in overall use as well as daily or almost daily use, is almost without precedent,” the report reads.
“It seems to be the result not of reduced use among males, but rather of increased use by females, and this has perhaps been facilitated by the introduction of a wider variety of cannabis products that appeal to women.”
Consumption rates climbed across three different age groups.
Among those aged 18 to 24, more than 35.5 per cent reported consuming weed in the past three months in 2020. That climbed from a about 28 per cent in 2018.
In the 25 to 44 age group, over 30 per cent used weed at the end of 2020, a sharp increase from just over 21 per cent in 2018.
For Canadians 45 and older, 10.5 per cent reported recent cannabis use in late 2020, an increase over 7 per cent before legalization.
Consumption in 2020 ranged widely by province.
Nova Scotia led the pack with a cannabis use rate of 27.3 per cent in the past three months.
British Columbia came in second with 24.8 per cent.
Quebec was last, with only 10.6 per cent of respondents reporting cannabis use.
The report identified key reasons why continued cannabis use growth should be expected.
With physical stores and online legal options increasing nearly eight times since 2018, cannabis is becoming easier to buy.
New product formats like edibles and topicals attract more consumption especially among first-time users, women and older demographics.
In America, consumption has increased in most jurisdictions that have legalized, as their cannabis markets mature.
On Tuesday, major U.S. cannabis store chain Sunnyside released a poll with research firm YouGov that found 25 per cent of American adults reporting weed use in the last 12 months. That’s compared to just 16 per cent in 2018.
The Canadian report also looked at where people accessed their cannabis.
The percentage of respondents who grew their own almost doubled to 14.2 per cent in final three months of 2020.
Just over 35 per cent of Canadians said they bought weed from an illicit source in 2020, according to StatsCan, compared to over 51 per cent in 2018.
“More Canadians reported obtaining cannabis legally in 2020 than in 2018 and 2019, and fewer were also using illegally sourced cannabis than before legalization in October 2018,” the report said.
Top image of Vancouver cannabis consumer at 4/20 rally in 2019 by Jared Gnam