British Columbia

Legal online weed sales brisk in small-town B.C., not big cities, provincial figures show

Who's buying legal pot online in B.C.? People in Chemainus, Gold River and Smithers — but Vancouver, not so much.

Lower big-city sales due to other 'black or grey market' options, says industry analyst

B.C. opened its first legal cannabis store in Kamloops after legalization Oct. 17, 2018. Since then the province has reported cannabis sales worth $18 million. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

The province has sold 2,084 kilograms of cannabis in the first six months of legalization, so just who is buying legal pot online in B.C.?

People in Chemainus, Gold River and Smithers — but Vancouver, not so much.

The government has sold more than $18 million worth of cannabis since legal sales began in B.C. last October. But Lower Mainland sales were slow compared to smaller towns, according to provincial data.

When it comes to legal pot sales, receipts show that transaction levels, per capita, are lowest in bigger cities close to Vancouver.

Weed sales were much higher on a per-capita basis in regional districts beyond Greater Victoria, the Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast and Sea-to-Sky corridor, accounting for nearly half of all provincial sales generated between last October and late May.

All this according to provincial data from sales in 77 cities. Total cannabis sales in the 2018/19 fiscal year so far total $18 million, according to the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch's recently released annual service plan report.

Pot industry expert Michael Armstrong, an associate business professor at Brock University, predicted legal cannabis sales would pale compared to illegal business. He's not surprised people in bigger cities still bought illegal pot, given all their options.

"If they are happy with what they are getting from their black or grey market store they would have just kept doing that," said the industry analyst based in  St. Catharines, Ont.

Armstrong said the B.C. data remains consistent with cannabis sales across Canada — illegal sales continued to double legal pot sales in the first six months after legalization.

Kamloops was the lone provincially run retail store in B.C. during the first six months after legalization, but sales for that location were not released.  

There were only 1,041 online sales recorded in the city of 90,000 so it's likely that more buyers walked into the store, said Armstrong,

B.C. slow to open stores

Orders were low in general in other mid-sized to large cities in the province.

"B.C., we know, has been trailing in per-capita legal sales, partly because it's been very slow to open legal stores and partly because you have such established black and grey market suppliers there," said Armstrong.

Another hiccup has been a shortage of product across Canada. Armstrong says Health Canada data puts the country's recreational cannabis use at about 77,000 kilograms per month, and the legal product available in the first month of sales was about one-eighth of the demand.

By May 2019 legal cannabis sales across Canada hit $85 million, an $11-million leap over the previous month. Armstrong says that shows the choice to buy legal is on the rise.

The data on cannabis sales in B.C. was garnered from a Freedom of Information request for the total amount of online and in-store cannabis sales figures from October, 17, 2018 until May 28, 2019.

The Ministry of the Attorney General's  Liquor Distribution Branch refused to provide store sales figures, but did give the total number of online transactions for 77 cities.

Exact monetary sales figures were not provided because the LDB argued that such disclosure would be "harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body."

Interior of a BC Cannabis Shore after legalization. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Yvette Brend, Justin McElroy

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