This month marks the fourth anniversary of marijuana becoming legal in Canada.
A promise made by Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau in the 2015 federal election campaign became a reality in late 2018, after a thorough review of regulations across different provinces.
Before legalization, majorities of Canadians were already in favour of cannabis being readily available for adults who wanted to use it. When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked about the issue again this month, 66 per cent of Canadians agreed with marijuana being legal in the country.
Public backing for legal cannabis includes majorities of Canadians aged 18 to 34 (69 per cent), aged 35 to 54 (70 per cent) and aged 55 and over (59 per cent). Regionally, support is lowest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (56 per cent), but rises in Alberta (61 per cent), British Columbia (63 per cent), Quebec (67 per cent), Ontario (69 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (70 per cent).
The biggest demographic difference is related to ethnicity. While majorities of Canadians whose heritage is Indigenous (80 per cent), European (68 per cent) or South Asian (57 per cent) agree with legal marijuana in Canada, the proportion falls to 41 per cent among those of East Asian descent.
As was the case when we last asked in April 2021, the proportion of Canadians who chose to try cannabis after legalization remains low (11 per cent), with larger groups admitting to using marijuana before it was legal (39 per cent) or never consuming it (50 per cent). Some groups are more likely to have tried cannabis only after it became legal, including women (13 per cent), Ontarians (14 per cent) and Canadians aged 18 to 34 (16 per cent).
This year’s survey suggests that the legal system is starting to win consumers over.
Last year, only 38 per cent of cannabis users in Canada told us that all of their product was acquired at a legal retailer. This year, the proportion has grown to 48 per cent. We could look at this statistic in a pessimistic way, since more than two in five Canadians are still buying at least some of their cannabis in the illegal market. However, seen more optimistically, the proportion of fully legal marijuana users is up by 10 points.
We also see a drop in the proportion of Canadian cannabis users who say that not an ounce of their product was bought at a legal retailer, from 20 per cent in 2021 to 15 per cent this year. In this case, old habits do die hard. While only seven per cent of cannabis users aged 18 to 34 are completely eschewing the marijuana stores, the proportion rises slightly to 12 per cent among those aged 35 to 54 and jumps to 22 per cent among those aged 55 and over.
The needle did not move on an intricate issue. We continue to see three in five Canadians (60 per cent, down one point) believing that companies in Canada should be able to administer “drug tests” to any employee now that marijuana is legal. Support for this practice is highest among those aged 55 and over (71 per cent), Atlantic Canadians (70 per cent) and Conservative Party of Canada voters in the 2021 federal election (also 70 per cent).
When marijuana became legal, some Canadians feared that the population would be ultimately desensitized into allowing any drug to be sold over the counter. Our tracking data has never supported this assertion, and this is true in 2022 as well. Only 10 per cent of Canadians believe it is time to legalize ecstasy, powder cocaine and heroin, and just eight per cent feel the same way about crack cocaine, methamphetamine or “crystal meth” and fentanyl.
A matter that has been long discussed after legalization is related to criminal records. The federal government is considering the provision of expungement orders to people convicted of simple possession of cannabis (that is, possession for personal use with no intent to traffic).
Right now, Canadians are sympathetic to the plan to destroy or remove any judicial record of a conviction related to the simple possession of marijuana. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) agree with the possibility of expungement, while 20 per cent are opposed and 15 per cent are undecided.
Pardoning Canadians who were caught with marijuana for personal use is a concept endorsed by 78 per cent of New Democratic Party (NDP) voters, 70 per cent of Liberal Party voters and 63 per cent of Conservative voters. On this component of the cannabis file, supporters of Canada’s three main political parties share the same point of view.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online survey conducted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 3, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.