Nearly two years after Canada legalized cannabis edibles, it appears they have lost their shine.
Canadians are getting used to the idea of legal cannabis, a new study from the Dalhousie University Agri-Food Analytics Lab (AAL) shows, but interest in edibles has waned. Support for legalization is up — from 49 per cent in 2019 to nearly 80 per cent today — and disapproval has more than halved (30 per cent in 2019 to 14 per cent in 2021).
According to the survey of 1,047 Canadians in May 2021, 25 per cent of cannabis consumers prefer edibles, which is down from 36 per cent in 2019. And while 65 per cent of Canadians don’t have a problem with restaurants adding cannabis-infused items to their menus, only 24 per cent would consider ordering one.
“Canadians don’t see the opportunity yet,” says Brian Sterling, AAL research associate and lead author of the report.
Stalled momentum and lack of choice may be contributing to Canada’s lack of eagerness for edibles. Legalized in October 2019 — a year after recreational use of cannabis — infused lollipops, gummies, cookies, chocolates and brownies nosed slowly out of the gate. Then COVID-19 hit, putting a damper on innovations that may have otherwise taken place at restaurants.
Gummies and other sweets are Canada’s first choice for edibles by far; 35 per cent of cannabis consumers favour them. Chocolates are also popular, but beverages — much buzzed about leading up to legalization — are only preferred by four per cent.
Even in mature American markets, such as Colorado, “gummies are way out in front,” says Sterling. He suspects this may be due to cannabis edibles still being regarded as “a risqué treat”; people equate gummies and other sweets as just that — an occasional pick-me-up. They’re also easy to make and lend themselves well to masking any undesirable flavours.
Prof. Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the AAL and co-author of the report, attributes prohibitively high production costs to the lack of variety. “The innovation related to cannabis is underwhelming. And frankly, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that regulations in Canada are so strict,” he says. “You have to partner with other companies in order to make it work, or else financially it’s just too much.”
The number of Canadians who are “canna-curious” has dropped from 26 per cent in 2019 to 13 per cent, which could also be attributed to deflated momentum as well as increased normalization. Those who were intrigued by edibles in 2019 have had ample time to satisfy their curiosity. As the reality of legalization settles in, cannabis is moving into the realm of the familiar. “Curiosity isn’t going to be a huge factor anymore,” says Sterling. “The future for edibles is going to be that somehow, we need to be able to show people that this is safe, because there are still some concerns around the risk.”
According to the report, roughly half (53 per cent) of Canadians are worried about overconsuming edibles, which is down from 60 per cent in 2019. Concerns about the risk edibles pose to children and pets have stayed the same, and are notably similar: 66 per cent are nervous about children getting hold of edibles; 60 per cent for pets.
Cannabis stigma remains, but is weakening, and normalization “is well underway,” says Sterling. More than half (56 per cent) of respondents say that towns and cities shouldn’t be able to ban retailers. Fewer Canadians are self-stigmatizing — 57 per cent don’t care who knows about their recreational consumption — and for more than half, the cannabis consumption of co-workers is a nonissue.
“Overall, the concept of legal cannabis is becoming more socially normalized,” says Charlebois. “The fact that we’re not really talking about it all that much anymore is a sign. I think a lot of people are becoming more comfortable.”
The number of Canadians who buy cannabis exclusively from legal sources has nearly doubled since 2019 — 38 per cent to 60 per cent — and those who still occasionally turn to legacy sources has dropped significantly (60 per cent in 2019 to 37 per cent in 2021). “We’ve gone beyond the tipping point,” says Sterling.