Marijuana sales in Canada rose by nearly 25% during the COVID-19 pandemic last year


The COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in sales of all kinds of vices, but marijuana purchases increased more than others, a new study suggests.

Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada gathered sales data of marijuana and alcohol in their city to find if there was a pandemic-related increase in drug sales.

They found that, at the start of the pandemic, there was a surge in sales as many stockpiled marijuana and alcohol. 

Marijuana sales increased much more, though, jumping nearly 25 percent, with alcohol sales only rising by five percent.

Researchers found that marijuana sales increased by 25% in Hamilton during the pandemic, and even continued to rise after an initial stockpiling surge

Researchers found that marijuana sales increased by 25% in Hamilton during the pandemic, and even continued to rise after an initial stockpiling surge

After the initial surge of purchases at the start of the pandemic, alcohol sales normalized. In total, sales increased by around 5%

After the initial surge of purchases at the start of the pandemic, alcohol sales normalized. In total, sales increased by around 5%

‘These results offer one of the first national perspectives on changes in alcohol and cannabis use during the pandemic,’ Dr James MacKillop, co-author of the study and director of the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research at McMaster, said in a statement.

‘These sales data give us an opportunity to quantify the pandemic’s impacts on two of the most commonly used substances for the country as a whole.’ 

Researchers, who published their findings on Thursday in JAMA Network Open, gathered data from November 2018 to June 2021.

Marijuana was legalized in Canada in October 2018, and the legal age to purchase in Ontario is 19, with November 2018 being the first full month when it was legal.

The research team found a surge of both marijuana and alcohol sales at the start of the pandemic that it attributes to people ‘stockpiling’ goods when Covid first arrived.

Other consumer goods, such as toilet paper, also had similar early pandemic sales surges as people stockpiled it, hoping to have enough at home to ride out the pandemic.

While an exact reason for the growth in marijuana use cannot be determined by researchers, they believe it could have to do with people using the drug to cope with mental health issues caused by the pandemic

While an exact reason for the growth in marijuana use cannot be determined by researchers, they believe it could have to do with people using the drug to cope with mental health issues caused by the pandemic

After the initial stockpile surge, alcohol sales normalized and returned to levels near where they were pre-pandemic.

Researchers found that sales increased by five percent on a monthly basis – or $1.86 billion in additional sales during the pandemic period.

Marijuana sales only continued to grow, though, as many turned to the drug during the pandemic.

After the initial stockpiling period, purchases of the drug increased a total of just under 25 percent during Covid – or $811 million more than the previous period.

Researchers cannot exactly pin-point why this occurred with marijuana, and not alcohol, though they theorize it could have to do with changes in ways people are managing their mental health.

‘These sales figures give us clues into potential changes in behavioral patterns and can inform planning to address mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,’ MacKillop said.

The increase in sales could also just be a part of a natural trend that would have formed whether the pandemic happened anyways, as the fairly recent legalization of the drug has caused explosive growth of sales over time.

Researchers are not sure if this trend occurred worldwide, and of data from countries with different timetables on marijuana legalization may have seen different trends.

‘It’s unclear whether similar patterns exist outside of Canada, but the findings indicate the value of sales data as a strategy to characterize the impacts of COVID-19 on substance use,’ Dr Jean Costello, co-author of the study and director of evaluation at the Homewood Research Institute, said in a statement.

‘Although the changing landscape following cannabis legalization is a critical consideration, the availability of cannabis sales data at all is a boon for researchers evaluating the pandemic’s impacts.’

In the U.S., multiple states recorded an increase in marijuana sales last year, and in the states where the drug is legalized, the drug’s industry had a record year.

Cigarette sales increased in 2020 as well, a rarity after decades of decline in usage. 

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