Article by Andrew Duffy, Ottawa Citizen
Canada’s legal pot shops are concentrated in the country’s poorest neighbourhoods, according to the findings of a new study that raises important questions about the conduct of the nation’s experiment in legalized cannabis.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the online access journal, CMAJ Open, plotted the country’s 260 cannabis retail stores and assessed the income levels of the neighbourhoods in which they were situated, along with their proximity to schools.
Researchers found that twice as many neighbourhoods in the lowest income quintile had pot shops in or near them (587), compared to the country’s highest income neighbourhoods (245).
The study assessed neighbourhoods within one kilometre of an established pot shop.
The study also found that privately operated pot shops tended to be closer to schools than government ones. Private pot shops had a median distance of 577 metres from the nearest school while government shops had a median distance of 744 metres.
Both of those medians comfortably abide by government-established rules. In Ontario, pot shops have to be at least 150 metres away from a school. In Quebec, it’s 250 metres, except in Montreal.
Ottawa family physician Dr. Daniel Myran, the lead author of the study, said the concentration of pot shops in low-income neighbourhoods raises potential public health concerns.
“If it turns out that increased availability of cannabis stores translates into more consumption and more health impacts, this could mean that individuals in poor neighbourhoods are being overexposed to cannabis,” said Myran, a resident at The Ottawa Hospital.
“We may be setting up these individuals to consume more and have more harms.”
A Statistics Canada study published last year showed that people making less than $40,000 a year are the country’s heaviest users of cannabis.
On a per capita basis, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Yukon had the most pot shops in Canada. Ontario and Quebec had the fewest per capita.
The study examined the Canadian pot landscape six months after the federal government’s Cannabis Act legalized it in October 2018.
Under the law, provinces and territories are responsible for regulating the sale of cannabis.
All of them provide online retail cannabis sales. Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and the Northwest Territories have government-run pot shops, while the other provinces and Yukon feature privately-run stores.
B.C. and Yukon also allow private pot shops. Nunavut offers only online sales.
The study found that jurisdictions with private cannabis stores had 49 per cent more pot shops per capita.
“Canada is conducting a huge, unprecedented experiment in legalizing recreational cannabis, and it’s crucial to gather as much data as we can,” said Dr. Peter Tanuseputro, a physician and scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, and one of the study’s senior authors.
The researchers say Canada’s mishmash of regulatory regimes makes it an ideal place to study the impact of different sales models.