The federal Liberals are paying little attention to the health dangers of cannabis, says columnist Naomi Lakritz.
The Canadian Press
Alberta is punching — or smoking — far above its weight in legal cannabis sales compared to the rest of the country, says a recent study on the business.While the province hosts only 11.6 per cent of Canada’s population, it accounted for 27.7 per cent of legal pot sales in 2018, states a study conducted by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics.That discrepancy is far greater than any other province, including notoriously cannabis-friendly B.C. where revenue gleaned from legal pot sales lagged well behind its share of the national population.“Total (Alberta) spending on legal cannabis reached $217 million in 2018, accounting for 28 per cent of total nationwide sales, more than twice its share of Canada’s population,” states the report.“Alberta’s comparatively liberal regulatory regime suggests it will rank among the fastest-growing cannabis markets.”The study also states Albertans who consume or lean toward using the drug — 59 per cent — is higher than the national average.The fact Alberta had far more licensed cannabis stores than other provinces — 65 in the last few months of 2018 — explains only part of the story.Consumers of medical cannabis in Alberta account for 2.5 per cent of the province’s population, compared with one per cent nationally.Last year, Alberta counted 106,000 cannabis patients while there were 172,000 such consumers in Ontario, which has more than three times the population.Those patients were purchasing the drug throughout all of 2018, while recreational pot was only available legally starting Oct. 17.While spending on recreational cannabis in Alberta amounted to only $24.5 million last year, its medical counterpart accounted for $192 million.Fred Pels, whose Green Room chain has dispensed information on medical cannabis in Alberta since late 2015, said he has “a real tough time discerning” how many of those Albertans listed as patients are actually medical consumers.But he said lack of access to over-the-counter medical marijuana in Alberta, compared with places such as B.C. and Ontario, drove many Albertans to acquire medical permits.“It’s the ingenuity of Albertans to get what they want . . . the only way Albertans could legally get it was through a medicinal licence,” said Pels.The Edmonton native started his business in B.C. but recognized the considerable opportunity the Alberta market represented.“I cut my teeth in B.C. but I was the first to come here and plant the flag . . . Alberta has a huge demand,” said Pels.The Green Room is now awaiting Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis licences to sell cannabis at several Alberta locations, a process slowed by a five-month-old moratorium on the permits due to supply shortages.Many of those Alberta consumers listed as medicinal likely aren’t, said Jeff Mooij of 420 Premium Market, whose company serves both sides of the market.But the bottom line, said Mooij, who operates four Calgary outlets, is that “Alberta is the best retail market in Canada and Calgary is the best — our stores do amazingly well.”The Arcview/BDS report forecasts recreational pot sales to dramatically eclipse medicinal purchases once those logistical issues are hashed out and more stores open.Recreational cannabis revenues in Alberta should reach about $800 million by 2024, while medicinal sales hit $144 million, it states.Even for those who genuinely consider themselves medicinal consumers, going to a cannabis store at a nearby strip mall will be the easiest alternative, said Pels.“Would you order your milk online? It’s the same kind of thing,” he said.And the legal side of the cannabis trade is almost certainly much smaller than its black market sector.According to Statistics Canada, only $1.2 billion of the $5.9 billion Canadian pot market is legal revenue, though that’s expected to be reversed as the licensed sector takes firmer root.BKaufmann@postmedia.comon Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn