Cannabis Trends in Canada: Developments and Challenges Since Legalization

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The contrast between cannabis for medical and recreational use in Canada since their respective legalizations.

On April 4, 2024, the CBC covered recent trends and developments of medical cannabis in Canada, noting the changes that have taken place since the beginning of a medical program over 20 years ago (1). In 2001, the Marihuana for Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) established the country's program for legal medical cannabis, then in 2018, with the passing of the Cannabis Act, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize possessing, consuming, acquiring, and cultivating cannabis (2).

The CBC article noted several obstacles that medical cannabis patients are currently still facing, such as access, stigma in the workplace, cost, and physician authorizations (1).

Dr. Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, a rheumatologist with McGill University in Montreal, suggested that patients may also be facing lack of effectiveness of products and side-effects (1). "As a physician, I will have some patients who say that it really does make a difference," said Dr. Fitzcharles in the article (1). "The question is, is this real? Is this a placebo effect?"


According to Health Canada, which tracks several aspects of medical cannabis in the country, authorizations were down to 188,301 in September 2023, compared to 345,520 in September 2018 (3). “The number of individuals registered with Health Canada for personal and designated cultivation of cannabis for their own medical purposes decreased 12% from 16,778 in June 2023 to 14,944 in September 2023,” the report also stated (3).

In October 2023, a panel of industry experts, appointed by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, published the Legislative Review of the Cannabis Act: What We Heard Report (4). The panel conducted research and discussions, and offered their opinions on the impacts of the Cannabis Act on public health, encompassing both medical and recreational cannabis (4). Some of their recommendations included allowing medical cannabis to be sold in pharmacies, ending the excise tax, and considering cannabis not as a separate medical program but rather as part of conventional medicine (1).

In comparison, cannabis for recreational use became legal in the country in 2018 (1). The 2023 National Cannabis Survey, released on March 18, 2024, reported recent trends in cannabis use (5). The survey collected data from 2251 adults aged 18-24 and from 5185 adults 25 years old and older, across 10 provinces (5). Results indicated that in the previous 12 months, over a third of younger adults had used cannabis, and one in seven adults 45 years old and older had used cannabis, and users are purchasing cannabis mostly from the legal market (5). A recent article from Forbes noted that the number of cannabis users has increased since 2021, and recreational sales in 2023 was CAD $5 billion compared to $4.2 billion in 2022, though the year-over-year growth has slowed since 2018 (6).

On March 6, 2024, Statistics Canada released data on cannabis and alcohol sales from April 2022 to March 2023 (7). Notably, the growth rate of total sales of inhaled extracts, solid edibles, and beverages were +59%, +27%, and +25.9% respectively, while the growth rates of ciders and coolers, beer, and spirits was +4.5%, +4.1%, and +3% respectively (7).

Related: More coverage on cannabis sales compares to alcohol sales in Canada.


  1. Zafar, A., Medical cannabis hurdles remain in Canada. Here's why. CBC. (accessed Apr 8, 2024).
  2. Colli, M., Around the World: Canada’s Footprint on the Cannabis Industry. Cannabis Science and Technology. (accessed Apr 8, 2024).
  3. Government of Canada, Data on cannabis for medical purposes (accessed Apr 8, 2024).
  4. Government of Canada, Legislative Review of the Cannabis Act: What We Heard Report, (accessed Apr 8, 2024).
  5. Statistics Canada, National Cannabis Survey, 2023 (accessed Apr 8, 2024).
  6. Sabaghi, D., Nearly 72% Of Canada’s Cannabis Users Buy From Legal Market, Survey Finds. Forbes. (accessed Apr 8, 2024).
  7. Statistics Canada, Alcohol and cannabis sales in Canada, April 2022 to March 2023, (accessed Apr 8, 2024).