Published On: Thu, Oct 11th, 2018

StatCan to get cannabis sales data as part of wider push to modernize agency

OTTAWA — About two-thirds of casual cannabis users say they didn’t spend anything on the drug in the past three months, Statistics Canada reported Thursday in a finding chalked up to a sharing culture among marijuana users.

The latest round of data from the agency’s cannabis survey shows more than 650,000, or 14 per cent, of users spent between $ 251 and $ 500 in the last three months on cannabis, while three per cent spent more than $ 1,000.

Statistics Canada officials say they plan to pull point-of-sale information from legalized cannabis purchases to figure out how much people spend and its impact on the economy.
Statistics Canada officials say they plan to pull point-of-sale information from legalized cannabis purchases to figure out how much people spend and its impact on the economy.  (Jesse Winter / Metro Vancouver file photo)

The numbers paint the most detailed picture to date about Canadians spending habits on a drug that will be legalized in less than a week on Oct. 17, as the agency and others try to get a handle on the market and what it means for policy makers, companies and consumers.

Statistics Canada officials say they plan to pull point-of-sale information from legalized cannabis purchases to figure out how much people spend and its impact on the economy

That will involve extending the use of scanner information to better measure consumer spending. As part of the agency’s modernization efforts, it is experimenting with a number of new ways to get information from Canadians without having to call them up at home, among other traditional collection methods.

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Officials said Thursday that they are running a pilot project at borders to ping travellers’ mobile devices to get more details about tourism.

The national statistics office can compel any private company in the country to hand over data and plans to test the reach of its legislative authority by turning first to online platforms like Airbnb and Uber before asking foreign-based companies for access to their data holdings on Canadians.

Statistics Canada will launch national consultations next week as part of the agency’s centennial to learn more about the information needs of Canadians so that it can better tailor its programs, with cannabis being a prime example.

Trying to get a handle on cannabis statistics was no easy task when the agency decided to measure its usage and impacts. Statistics Canada has thus far relied on crowd-sourced data but that will change next week when stores, provinces and territories start supplying details about sales.

The agency says about 4.6 million people over age 15, or about 15 per cent of that age group, reported using cannabis in the past three months, mirroring similar numbers from earlier this year.

About six per cent of users, nearly 1.8 million people, reported using cannabis either daily or almost every day, and three per cent, or almost 800,000 people, reported being weekly users.

Some of the agency’s work on spending and consumption were used as the basis for a report from the C.D. Howe Institute released Thursday that argues some users will continue to spend money in the illegal drug market that the Liberals want to quash through legalization.

The authors estimate the black market will be valued at $ 2.5 billion in the first year of legalization due to a mix of supply and availability issues in the legal market, shifting tactics in the illegal market, and no federal regulations for edibles. That would mean $ 800 million in lost tax revenues for Ottawa and the provinces.

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StatCan to get cannabis sales data as part of wider push to modernize agency