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Two-thirds of Canadian consumers buy only legal cannabis, survey shows

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Two-thirds of Canadian consumers buy cannabis only from legal sources, according to a new survey from Toronto-based polling company Pollara Strategic Insights.

The newest data – released on the fifth anniversary of the end of prohibition in Canada – suggests the regulated industry might account for more of the overall market than previously understood, which would be a boon to compliant businesses. That might also come as a surprise to some executives, who sometimes blame the illicit market for their hardships and mounting losses in the legal market.

According to the Pollara data, 65% of respondents said they purchased only legal cannabis, which is a seven-point increase since November 2022.

In March 2021, Pollara found that half of consumers bought only legally sourced marijuana. The Pollara figures are higher than Health Canada’s.

According to Health Canada’s annual survey, roughly half of consumers “always” purchased cannabis from a legal source last year – meaningfully lower than Pollara’s figure. That number is up from 43% in 2021 and 37% in 2020.

Establishing a rough idea of the amount of sales occurring in the legal market is important to estimating the amount of revenue that is “addressable” for legal businesses.

The Pollara survey also found that those who used cannabis both before and since legalization are more likely to report a reduced usage frequency now than before legalization. The company polled 2,006 randomly selected adults on many aspects of the cannabis industry.

Because the survey was entirely online, there is no assigned margin of error, though surveys of this size typically come with margins of roughly plus or minus 2.2%. The survey highlighted some potentially concerning trends.

It found that 27% of Canadians reported using cannabis in the past 12 months, a major increase from 11% in 2017. (However, Health Canada’s data differs significantly in this regard, suggesting 22% of Canadians consumed cannabis in 2017, rising to 27% in 2022.) The survey also found that more Canadians than ever approve of cannabis legalization. Fifty-two percent expressed outright approval, while 20% were ambivalent and just under one-quarter of respondents disapproved of legal cannabis.

Canada legalized cannabis largely for public-health reasons.

Potentially of concern for cannabis businesses are some of the public-health-related findings in the survey.

More Canadians believe the overall health of youth was negatively impacted by cannabis legalization (38%) compared with those who say there was a positive impact (15%). About one-quarter believe there was basically no impact.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • The perceived positive impacts of cannabis legalization on economic and tax revenues outweighed negatives by a 2-1 or greater margin.

  • Close to half believe road safety has been negatively impacted by cannabis legalization (46%), while 9% say roads are safer and 27% think there was basically no impact.

  • 11% of adult Canadians reported using cannabis for the first time after legalization.

The report sheds some light on the perceived impacts of cannabis legalization before 2018 compared to now.

Notably, before legalization, about two-thirds of Canadians believed the number of youth using cannabis – and the frequency – would increase because of legalization. However, less than half think so now, according to the Pollara survey.


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