Price and convenience may tempt users to buy cannabis from illegal sources

PISCATAWAY, NJ — Despite the legalization of cannabis sales in Canada and many US states, an illegal market still exists. A new study in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Studies suggests that the higher prices and inconvenience associated with legal sources may be barriers that encourage consumers to seek out illegal suppliers instead.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario looked at data from the 2019 and 2020 International Cannabis Policy Study, which collected data from people aged 16 to 65. Participants were asked how much of the marijuana they had used in the past 12 months had been purchased from legal or licensed sources. If someone entered a value less than 100%, they were prompted to choose from a list of reasons for buying illegal cannabis.

“Legal sources had higher prices” was the number one response from respondents in Canada in both years (35.9% in 2019 and 34.6% in 2020), as well as in the United States (27. 3% in 2019 and 26.7% in 2020). Convenience – covered by “Legal sources were less convenient” and “Legal stores were too far away/there aren’t any where I live” – also topped the list, with the percentage of respondents having them cited as reasons ranging from 10.6 percent to 19.8 percent.

Other possible reasons, such as low quality, desire to remain anonymous, speed of delivery and loyalty to a reseller, were less frequently cited by respondents as factors in choosing a purchase option.

“We also observed differences between jurisdictions and changes over time – many of the reasons have declined over the past several years, reflecting changes in the number of stores and the price of cannabis in Canada and in the states. Americans who have legalized cannabis use among adults,” says the co-author of the study. David Hammond, PhD, Professor and University Research Chair in the School of Public Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo.

Interestingly, COVID-19 restrictions may be driving some of the changes between 2019 and 2020 survey responses. More than 10% of respondents in the United States and Canada said the pandemic had limited their ability to purchase legally in 2020. However, legal cannabis delivery service has become an option in several US states and Canadian provinces during the pandemic, which may explain some of the decrease in respondents reporting slow delivery times. and inconveniences.

One of the goals of non-medical cannabis legalization has been to displace the illegal market, so the reasons why this goal has not been fully achieved are significant, and few studies have examined the potential disconnect.

“Cannabis legalization has been one of the most notable substance use policies in decades,” Hammond says. “Switching consumers from illegal to legal retail sources is one of the primary goals of legalization. Indeed, many of the potential benefits of legalization – including product standards, revenue for legitimate businesses, reduced burden on the criminal justice system – hinge on shifting consumers to legal sources of cannabis. Given the importance of this issue, there is surprisingly little empirical evidence on the factors that determine where consumers obtain their products in a legal market.

Hammond and his colleagues write that future research should focus on how perceived barriers to legal markets change as those markets evolve.

“As markets mature, the number of stores per capita tends to increase, and inconvenience should become less of a barrier,” the researchers conclude. “Regulators will need to balance public health and criminal justice priorities to establish a competitive market for legal cannabis that encourages legal purchase.”

– This press release was provided by the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Studies