May 8, 2019 11:00 pm

In the wake of alarming stories, Canadians are less open to marijuana edibles: poll

WATCH: A poll conducted for Dalhousie University shows Canadians have become less willing to try cannabis-infused edibles.

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As legal cannabis edibles come closer to being a reality, Canadians are becoming less open to trying them, a poll shows.

In 2017, before legalization, 46 per cent of respondents said they’d be willing to try edibles presented as food. But in the new poll, that had fallen to 36 per cent.

Cannabis expert Jenna Valleriani says the new caution is due to a series of news stories about overdoses from unregulated grey-market edibles.

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“That pushback right now, that drop, really has to do with the fact that people are scared,” she says. “They don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what those products will mean. They just see in the news all these horror stories of children getting hold of gummies in the back seat.”

Over the last year, Canadians have seen a series of stories about children being exposed to edibles in appealing forms like candy. Several have been hospitalized.

This week, RCMP in Nova Scotia seized a candy edible shaped like a Lego block with 500 mg of THC. (New users often find 10 mg meaningfully intoxicating.)

WATCH: A pediatrician discusses the harm that edible marijuana can have on children

READ MORE: Should parents lock up their pot? Probably, lawyers warn

But edibles haven’t only been an issue for the young. In 2018, an elderly New Brunswick man suffered a heart attack after consuming most of a lollipop which contained 90 mg of THC, a huge dose.

READ MORE: Elderly man’s heart attack is another warning about grey-market cannabis edibles

Legal edibles, when they appear, are likely to be more consistently dosed, accurately labelled and much milder than the grey-market equivalents that seem to have made the public wary.

“You’re not going to see gummy bears and products like Skittles and Reese’s Pieces bars,” she says. “It’s not going to be the way that we see these products unfold in the grey market.”

While there has never been a documented death from a THC overdose, having too much can be deeply unpleasant, Valleriani says.

“Generally, it’s an overwhelming effect,” she explains. “It comes with a lot of anxieties. It can make them sick, like when you drink too much. It’s quite uncomfortable, it makes people anxious, it’s not a great experience.”

READ MORE: Cannabis edibles would be capped at low doses under proposed federal rules

The poll, conducted for Dalhousie University, was released Thursday.

WATCH: Three pros and three cons of eating marijuana edibles

Quebec much less tolerant of weed; Atlantic Canada more open

The poll also showed that Quebecers are much more negative about cannabis than other Canadians, and that Quebecers who do use are more concerned about a lingering stigma.

Quebecers:

  • Had the lowest support for legalization
  • Were the most likely to say they’d be concerned about being seen buying cannabis
  • Were the second-most-likely to oppose cannabis retail in residential neighbourhoods (after Ontario)
  • Most likely to say they wouldn’t want to work with someone who regularly uses recreational cannabis
  • Most likely to say they wouldn’t want their co-workers to know they regularly use recreational cannabis

WATCH: Quebec to raise legal age for marijuana consumption

Atlantic Canadians were the opposite of this — most open to cannabis retail, most positive about legalization, least likely to disapprove of others’ consumption or to be concerned that others might disapprove of theirs.

READ MORE: Atlantic Canadians buying far more pot than rest of country, sales figures show

(Per capita, legal cannabis sales are much higher in the four Atlantic provinces than elsewhere in the country.)

“I’m from Quebec, and I’m not sure what’s going on,” says Sylvain Charlebois of the Dalhousie business school.

“It’s just counterintuitive, I guess. Most people think of Quebec as a liberal market.”

Quebec’s approach to legalization has largely been more restrictive than the rest of Canada’s. Quebec is one of only two provinces to completely ban home grows, and the provincial government has tabled legislation that would raise the cannabis age to 21, the country’s highest. The bill would also impose severe restrictions on public consumption.

“Quebec is handling cannabis right now like Ontario was handling alcohol for the longest time,” Charlebois says.

Support for legalization has fallen

Support for legalization has fallen dramatically since 2017, from 68 per cent to just 50 per cent.

Most of the former supporters seem to have become neutral on the issue. Opposition rose as legalization happened, from 25 per cent to 30 per cent, a weaker trend.

“If you ask me whether or not cannabis is about to be socially normalized, we’re very far from that still,” Charlebois says. “Very far. We haven’t come close to normalizing cannabis.”

Illegal markets still thriving in B.C., Ontario

B.C. and Ontario have been much less successful in getting grey-market cannabis buyers to switch to legal sources than other provinces, the poll shows.

In B.C, 40 per cent of people who bought illegal cannabis before legalization are still buying from the grey market, and over 37 per cent are still buying illegal pot in Ontario.

That contrasts with only 22 per cent in the Prairie provinces, and 21 per cent in Quebec.

WATCH: Bill Blair not concerned about marijuana shortages in provinces

The poll results seem to reflect the very slow rollout of legal retail stores in the two provinces.

B.C., which has well-entrenched and tolerated grey-market cannabis retail stores, has opened only a handful of legal ones. And Ontario, which planned to open 25 stores on April 1, operated by people who won a lottery, has only 16 to serve a population of 14 million.

WATCH: Tokyo Smoke cannabis store opens on Yonge Street

Both provinces have government-run online sales sites, but Canadians turn out to have a strong preference for buying their weed in person. Experts we’ve talked to said it has to do with being able to buy privately using cash, the chance to see and taste the product before buying, and being able to talk to a human about the choices on offer.

READ MORE: Blair ‘very confident’ more pot shops, supply chains can convert grey market cannabis users

The poll, conducted by Qualtrics for Dalhousie University, was conducted in a four-day period in April 2019, with a sample of 1,051 people. Dalhousie says the poll is accurate to within +/ – 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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