Health Canada delivers cannabis data dump for the holidays

More Canadians are using weed in a stress-filled 2020, and medical cannabis registrations have reached an all-time high. And the country’s weed regulator just revealed it started inspecting for illicit activity at personal and designated medical production sites for the first time last year.

That’s according to three reports published by Health Canada over the past week that provide data on national usage rates, cannabis for medical purposes and compliance inspections.

Released on Monday, The Canadian Cannabis Survey showed 27 per cent of Canadians reported using weed for recreational use in the past 12 months, up from 25 per cent in 2019.

Conducted between April 30 and June 22, the survey looked at how Covid-19 impacted cannabis consumption. A total of 22 per cent of Canadian cannabis users said they increased consumption during the pandemic, but another 22 per cent decreased their usage. The remaining 56 per cent said Covid-19 did not impact their frequency of use.

The most popular reasons behind increased usage included relaxation, boredom and anxiety.

Health Canada delivers cannabis holiday data dump
A Canadian smokes weed at a Vancouver beach in 2019. Photo by Jared Gnam

However, it should be noted that the survey’s results are based on self-reported responses from 10,822 respondents aged 16 years or older. Despite the survey being conducted nearly two years into legalization, 18 per cent of respondents said they wouldn’t be more willing to say if they use cannabis, an increase from 14 per cent in 2019.

That could be a reason for a discrepancy in the figures in Health Canada’s survey on weed use this year compared to other sources.

In June, the Red Cross found that Canadians who used cannabis in the past two weeks reported a 27 per cent rise in usage while 12 per cent reported using less.

Because Health Canada’s survey is self-reported, experts remain skeptical on its accuracy in gauging how much Canadians spend on illicitly sourced weed versus regulated product.

According to the 2020 survey, 54 per cent of Canadian cannabis consumers said they purchased product from a legal store or website. That’s compared to just 9 per cent who said they purchased weed from a dealer, illegal store or website.

The survey also showed that 70 per cent of Canadian pot users rarely or never obtained product through illicit means, with price and safety as top factors for why they chose regulated channels.

The survey found that 14 per cent of Canadians said they used cannabis for medical purposes in the last 12 months, unchanged from 2019.

Health Canada delivers cannabis holiday data dump
Ontario Provincial Police seized 122,000 plants worth over $143 million from 52 large-scale illicit production sites in from July to October. The OPP tied the cannabis busts to Health Canada’s personal and designate medical cannabis production program. Photo via OPP

Health Canada hints at grey market crackdown

However, Health Canada revealed in a separate report this week that active cannabis registrations hit an all-time high of 377,024 early this fall.

According to the new data, Canada added just over 73,800 active client registrations with a federally licensed seller for the three months ended Sept. 30, up 24 per cent from the prior quarter.

Another 43,211 Canadians in September signed up to either grow their own medical cannabis or have it supplied by a designated grower.

For the first time, Health Canada revealed data on the number of health care practitioners and the daily amounts of medical cannabis they authorize.

While average the daily amount authorized for patients registered with licensed sellers remained around two grams a day, the daily average for patients with personal or designated production registrations rose to 36.2 per cent as of March.

Read more: Health Canada hints at increased grey market enforcement

Read more: Legitimize the grey market, policy expert says

Image via CannTrust

Increased enforcement on personal and designated medical growers began last year

On Tuesday, Health Canada said it started inspecting personal medical cannabis or designated production sites for the first time last year.

In its compliance and enforcement report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, the agency said it conducted nine inspections in March at four authorized personal medical production sites in Ontario.

One inspection resulted in no observations, but eight inspections resulted in one or two observations.

The agency said in fiscal 2019 it took a number of steps to strengthen its oversight of persons authorized to produce medical cannabis. Some of those steps include:

  • enhancing application screening where the healthcare practitioner has authorized a high amount and multi-unit alternate production sites;
  • working more with law enforcement and municipalities on the overall medical access regime;
  • sharing information with provincial authorities on health care practitioners who are authorizing high amounts;
  • applying new powers to refuse or revoke a registration on the grounds of public health and public safety; and
  • increasing the focus on promoting compliance with registrants.

Combined with licensed producers, Health Canada says it conducted a total 293 inspections in fiscal 2019.

From April 2018 to Oct. 16, 2018, 156 inspections of regulated parties were conducted under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations.

And from Oct. 17, 2018, to March 2019, 137 inspections were conducted under the Cannabis Act.

In the first time period, four warning letters were issued to licence holders about their non-compliance. One warning led to the seizure of products and one licence held by Agrima Botanicals was suspended.

In the latter time period, one warning letter was issued to a licence holder for their non-compliance, one seizure took place and producer Bonify had its licence suspended.

Read more: Cannabis operators 98% compliant: Health Canada 2019-20 report

Top image of the Peace Tower in Ottawa, Ont., by David Carroll via Wikimedia Commons

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