Let’s check in on how Canada is doing with its national legalization of cannabis, four months in. It’s the largest cannabis legalization program ever undertaken, and even though Americans do terribly in learning from other countries (or from history), perhaps we can buck that trend and take away some insight from the good folks with whom we share a border that doesn’t require a wall or slats or whatever horseshit Mango Unchained is proposing this week.
First, some numbers: Canada has a population of 37 million people. In comparison, California has 40 million people, and Washington has 7.4 million.
Canada has a robust medical cannabis program, with nearly 330,000 registrants as of June 2018. Unlike Washington, Canada’s medical program has actually expanded in size since legalization, which physicians attribute to people wanting the assistance and guidance of a medical professional to sort out options, and to determine the best products for their pain and health issues.
Sales more than doubled in 2018, totaling $1.6 billion ($1.2 billion USD), more than twice what was spent in 2017 on medical cannabis sales.
Canadian legalization began in October 2018, and sales well exceeded what had been predicted, resulting in widespread shortages. As the Financial Post reported: “Quebec’s government-controlled stores have closed three days a week, Alberta has temporarily stopped issuing retail licenses, and Ontario has said it will initially open just 25 stores across Canada’s most populous province. As of mid-December, about 50 percent of products for sale in five provinces were out of stock.”
This isn’t expected to change anytime soon. While the initial predictions were for the shortages to last 18 months, new estimates predict them lasting as long as three years. (Please don’t talk to me about US states exporting their excess weed—that simply isn’t going to happen until cannabis is descheduled by our federal government, no matter what bills states might pass supporting the very worthy idea of interstate commerce.)
The shortage has been a boon for the illicit market. Statistics Canada took respondent data from cannabis consumers and determined that between legalization in October 2018 and the end of the year, the price of legal cannabis actually rose, with consumers paying an average of $9.71 Canadian per gram for legally purchased cannabis. The price for illicitly acquired cannabis was $6.51 per gram. Which may explain why so many Canadians still keep their dealer’s number—that’s a difference of roughly $90 Canadian per ounce. Canadians also have the option to grow their own.
The high price tag of Canadian cannabis is attributable to both the cost of regulation enforcement, which runs $500 million Canadian annually, and that the vast majority of flower thus far produced for the legal marketplace has been indoor or greenhouse. An Ontario-based partnership expects to produce Canada’s first large-scale sun-grown harvest by October 2019, for what they predict conservatively to be 88,185 pounds of dried cannabis, grown at what they told MJ Business Daily will be “25 percent of the cost of greenhouse-grown cannabis and 15 to 20 percent of an indoor space.”
The economic benefits include an increase in cannabis jobs by 266 percent in just one year, with an average hourly wage for a Canadian cannabis employee of $29.58 Canadian, compared to the national average of $27.03 per hour. And Canadians certainly enjoy their weed, with Statistics Canada estimating that Canadians spend $4.4 billion Canadian per year on the stuff, with only $570 million of that spent on legal cannabis in 2017. As more consumers migrate to the legal marketplace, the revenue from cannabis taxes are estimated to hit as much as $1 billion Canadian.
Canada isn’t interested solely in keeping its citizens high—many growers are looking far beyond their own backyards for eager customers. Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the Czech Republic are all purchasing Canadian cannabis for their medical markets. As other countries embrace medical cannabis programs, Canada is positioned to provide the herb, and the knowledge and equipment to produce it.
How Canada handles its emerging industry is something we should take a keen interest in. Odds are growing that the United States will one day follow suit—the sooner the better.