StatsCan uses crowdsourcing to collect data on pot prices

Statistics Canada is using crowdsourcing to gather information about why Canadians use pot — and how much they pay for it.

Online initiative aims to get better picture of black market pricing before cannabis becomes legal in July

Statistics Canada is using crowdsourcing to get information on consumer trends for medicinal and recreational cannabis — along with estimated GDP numbers for comparative purposes. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Statistics Canada is crowdsourcing to gather information about why Canadians use pot — and how much they pay for it.

In what is a first for the federal agency, it launched the cannabis crowdsourcing initiative to try to fill information gaps as Canada gets set to legalize marijuana in July.

"Tell us about your last purchase of dried cannabis — submissions are anonymous!" reads the call for participants."Your data is protected." 

More than 5,000 respondents have taken part since the online survey launched Thursday.

The online questionnaire asks consumers what price they paid for what quantity and quality, what city it was purchased in, and whether it was used to medicate or use recreationally. It also lists a table with average pricing in each of the provinces and the territories, showing a range of $6.94 to $9.52 per gram, with prices gleaned from third-party sources such as www.priceofweed.com.

This is the first time StatsCanada has collected its own data on marijuana pricing.

Statistics Canada economist Conrad Barber-Dueck said the crowdsourcing method is being used to get information fast, and to reach a younger target group who can be more challenging to contact through traditional survey methods such as phone calls.

"Because this is our first time, we're still a little uncertain, but our uptake has been good so far," he said. "There has been a very good response to this, and of course the more responses you get, the better your results will be. The larger the sample size, the more accurate you will be." 

The data will continue to be collected up to, and after, marijuana is legalized in July this year for comparison purposes, with results made public periodically. The first set of results will likely be released in early February.

Economy of cannabis

The online survey will help measure the economy around cannabis production and sales, to better understand the impact

"When legalization day comes along, if we have a lot of activity that previously was not included in GDP because it was illegal, that doesn't mean it wasn't happening," he said.

"We know that people are buying and consuming cannabis — that production was there, even though it was illegal. So when it does become legal, we don't want there to be a big jump in the GDP, because this isn't really showing economic reality. We want to have a before and after so we have more precision in the way we're measuring GDP."

Last week, the agency used what it called "assumptions" and "sparse data sources" to report that Canadians spent an estimated $5.7 billion on cannabis last year, with 90 per cent of sales in the black market for non-medical consumption.

In December, Finance Minister Bill Morneau reached a deal with the provinces on sharing pot tax revenues, and said at the time that marijuana will be competitively priced at about $10 a gram to help shut down the black market.

Ontario had already considered setting the price at $10 a gram.

Pot remains illegal

Barber-Dueck acknowledged some people may be hesitant to respond because cannabis remains an illegal substance, but said all information is strictly confidential.

If the initiative is successful, crowdsourcing could be used for other StatsCan surveys.

During a news conference to close a cabinet retreat in London, Ont., earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians who buy pot are funding gangs and organized crime and will continue to be charged until marijuana is legal.

The Liberal government is looking at ways to deal with criminal records for possessing pot, but Trudeau said there will be no amnesty until after cannabis is legalized and controlled in July.

Trudeau said the government's plan for marijuana is "fundamentally" about public health and safety, and until the critical regulatory and security regimes are in place it will be treated as an illegal product.

About the Author

Kathleen Harris

Senior Writer

Kathleen Harris is a senior writer in the CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She covers politics, immigration, justice and corrections. Follow her on Twitter @ottawareporter

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