Legal cannabis sales more than doubled in Ontario in April, after stores started to open, data released Friday by Statistics Canada shows.
Ontario was the only province to only offer online cannabis sales until April 1, when a handful of stores opened.
Under the online system, sales ranged between $7 million and $8 million a month. With even a few stores opening, that number quickly soared, reaching $19.6 million for April.
On a per capita basis, Ontarians spent between 50 and 60 cents a month on legal cannabis from December through March, but $1.36 in April.
That still puts Ontario’s per capita cannabis sales at the second-lowest in Canada (in terms of dollars spent, Ontario sales are now Canada’s highest, passing Quebec and Alberta in April).
Ontario had a much slower rollout of legal stores than other provinces. The previous Liberal government had planned for a network of government-run stores similar to the province’s liquor store network. That plan had made some progress before an incoming PC government changed plans to one based on privately owned stores with the owners selected by lottery.
The first of a group of 25 stores opened in April, though not all of those who won the lottery were in a position to open on April 1.
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Canadians happily buy clothes, books and diapers online. But as the sales figures show, they strongly prefer to buy weed in person at stores — and if they can’t, they keep their money in their pockets.
Why is that?
Experts we talked to said it’s important to people to be able to see and smell the product. And new or returning users may want to get advice and information from a real person at a store.
“People want to be able to understand, from people they can trust, how this is going to taste and feel, and how it will make them feel.” said Deepak Anand, CEO of Materia Ventures, a cannabis supply and distribution company.
But one of the most important things was the ability to use cash.
“You have to share your ID in a store, but one you’ve done that, there’s no record of you having been there,” said Brock University business professor Michael Armstrong. “You could pay in cash and walk out the door with your plain paper bag.”
A majority of Canadian cannabis consumers fear their use, legal or not, will cause them problems crossing the U.S. border.
In December, the federal privacy commissioner urged Canadians to buy their weed with cash if that concerned them.
“The personal information of cannabis users is … very sensitive,” the statement said. “For example, some countries may deny entry to individuals if they know they have purchased cannabis, even lawfully.”
New Brunswickers are much less likely to use credit cards to buy cannabis than alcohol, sales figures released by the province show. And shoppers at cannabis stores near the U.S. border are the least likely to buy their weed with credit cards.
On a per capita basis, legal cannabis sales are highest in the territories, Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan. If Ontarians had bought weed at the same rate as people in the Yukon, they would have spent $120 million on it in April.