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Marijuana And Canadians: A New Marriage With No Honeymoon

Bruce MacLellan

On rare occasions in history, we see the emergence of an entirely new industry.

These sectors are often created by technological achievement (e.g., mobile phones) or transformative discovery (e.g., medical breakthroughs). Occasionally, regulatory change can create an industry, such as the case of marijuana legalization in Canada.

The emergence of something new is often associated with a honeymoon period of optimism and goodwill. Canada’s marijuana industry, in contrast, could not be starting with a lower level of trust.

When asked about companies in the marijuana production sector, only 13% of Canadians expressed trust in this fledgling industry. This is the lowest standing among over 20 sectors surveyed and is well below other sectors lacking public trust, such as social media and resource companies. In Quebec, trust in producers is at only 10%. Younger Canadians, aged 25-49, show only slightly higher trust in the marijuana industry, but still only an anemic 16%.

While legalization overall enjoys popular support, the devil will be in the details and there is abundant room for missteps as the marketplace is created and governed. It will not be an easy win for anyone. The latest signs from Ottawa are that July 1, 2018, will be the goal for legalization to be in place. Provinces will handle key implementation details such as where it is sold.

There is a risk in this, since Ottawa may wear the blame for how provinces choose to implement. Provinces will not be uniform and that could create confusion or further weaken trust. Ensuring the quality and safety of the product will also be a key factor… Ottawa ought not to duck that issue.

When asked about trust to sell or distribute medical or recreational marijuana, 51% of Canadians trust drug and pharmacy chains as their first choice. Government-run clinics or dispensaries are next at 48%. Privately-owned storefronts are trusted by only 21%. We see the lowest levels of trust in these storefronts in Québec and with women.

When it comes to trust for setting the price of marijuana, it is difficult to find a favourite. Once again, the industry producers are at the bottom, with only 21% of Canadians trusting the sector to set the price. The largest group, 42%, don’t trust anyone, although a plurality of Canadians favour the federal government (39%), provincial governments (33%) and pharmacies 28%.

Overall, we see a sizable political challenge facing Ottawa and a serious reputation challenge facing the industry. There is little margin for error and considerable room for bigger entrants.

Note: this research was conducted in January 2017, prior to the Liberal government’s announcement that marijuana will be legalized in Canada by July 2018.