Many BC cannabis users still choosing familiar, locally grown weed over licensed options

British Columbians spent on average about $77 per month on cannabis in 2021, above the Canadian average of $69. In the most recent month, however, BC cannabis users reported spending $59.11 on products from licensed retailers, and $35.40 from illegal sources.

By Fiona Anderson

The number of British Columbians who use cannabis for non-medical purposes has remained steady at just over 29 per cent over the last three years, according to a recent survey by Health Canada. Of those surveyed in 2018, the first year cannabis for recreational use was legalised, only 26 per cent of respondents said they had used cannabis that year.

British Columbians spent on average about $77 per month on cannabis in 2021, above the Canadian average of $69, the survey found. But not all sales were made through licensed retailers. In the most recent month, British Columbians said they spent $59.11 buying products from licensed retailers, and $35.40 from illegal sources.

Alex Robb, director of B.C. operations for Trees Cannabis, which has been operating in Victoria since 2015, and has four retail stores in the area, has seen the trend first-hand, with an increase in business at retail stores immediately after legalization, when anyone over 19 could buy cannabis products. But that trend is now reversing, with people choosing to go back to their illegal providers, Robb said.

The reason is product.

“The fact is that in B.C., probably more than in any other province, the heaviest cannabis users, the 20 per cent of people who consume 80 per cent of cannabis, they largely eschew the licensed stores (because) they have access to more affordable and more high-quality cannabis through the cannabis community that has been in B.C. for a very long time,” Robb said.

“And it’s simply because they prefer the products that they can get there.”

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While this situation probably exists across the country, Robb believes it’s more prevalent in B.C. where there is a long-standing cannabis culture and existing networks in production and distribution.

“I think in BC, and especially Vancouver Island, where we’re operating, there are so many people that still have access to locally grown cannabis that they prefer to purchase.”

Trees and other licensed retailers are required to buy their product from the BC Liquor Distribution Branch and it’s been difficult for some local small producers to get their product purchased by the provincial wholesalers.

So much of the product sold through licensed retailers is industrially produced by companies that Robb likens to the beer industry’s large brewers, like Labatt and Molson. And it can take six months to get a product to market.

“In the meantime, it’s packaged in plastic containers that dry it out and sometimes even change the chemical composition,” Robb said.

But B.C. consumers prefer locally produced craft products whether it’s beer or cannabis, Robb said.

“In the way we were operating before, the cannabis was available for purchase by a customer within weeks of being harvested and cured. And that’s harder to do with the system that’s in place right now.”

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– Fiona Anderson is a founder of Triumph Social

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