Last October 17 marked five years since the legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada (medical cannabis has been authorized since 2001), becoming the second country, after Uruguay, to implement this measure. Five years after the green light, progress is being made that confirms the correctness of the decision. However, there are still pending issues. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted on the day the measure came into effect: “Legalization will hit criminal groups and protect young people.” 70% of the total value of cannabis consumed in the country in the first half of 2023 came from a legal source. In the first months of legalization it represented 22%. At the same time, the number of authorized stores increased considerably (there are now 3,300 stores), as did the product offering in these establishments.
Risk of a drastic increase in consumption
On the eve of legalization, various voices warned about the risk of a drastic increase in consumption. In reality, this increase had been observed for decades, even without legalization. In 1985, 5.6% of Canadians over 15 years of age consumed it; In 2017 it went to 14.8%, and in 2021, to 21%. The group that currently consumes the most is people between 18 and 24 years old.
The black market has lost most of the pie, but dollars continue to enter for obvious reasons. Prices in authorized stores, although they have decreased, are still prohibitive for certain sectors of the population. In addition, criminal groups offer products with a high concentration of THC (the main psychoactive element of the plant), limited by legal means following recommendations from health authorities. Experts in Quebec continue to criticize the provincial government’s decision to increase the legal purchase age. He went from 18 to 21 years old in January 2020: pure oxygen for street sale.
Canadian legalization sparked global interest as it was a measure focused on combating organized crime and public health; also in state finances and in an industry with its papers in order. If in the first month of the new framework legal sales represented about 42 million Canadian dollars (28.7 million euros), in July of this year they reached 446 million (305 million euros).
A ‘shot’ for the State
Trudeau’s legalization plan sparked a furor among those interested in trying their luck in this industry. After five years of its implementation, the public coffers receive considerable figures. For every dollar of product sold, the various levels of government pocket 47 cents in excise and sales taxes. However, few production companies show profits. Most of them complain about the high level of investment in infrastructure, strict regulations and lack of public support. In February, a group of producers filed a lawsuit against Canadian banks for “financial discrimination” in the granting of credit.
The legalization of cannabis occupies less and less space in public opinion. Currently, the discussion is more focused on other drugs. Ottawa authorized the use of hallucinogens such as psilocybin and MDMA to treat certain mental illnesses. Some companies are already thinking about plans as these substances enter the legal field. Likewise, different sectors demand the decriminalization of hard drugs, as part of efforts to reduce the wave of overdoses, mainly due to opioids.