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Alberta walks back claim people are buying more alcohol and cannabis during pandemic

Are Albertans actually buying more booze and weed because of the pandemic? The province is walking back a claim to that effect, after being asked for data to back it up.

Province won't provide sales data, says comment was 'slip of the tongue'

Cannabis and alcohol consumption are illustrated in these file photos. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Are Albertans actually buying more booze and weed because of the pandemic?

The province is walking back a claim to that effect, after being asked for the sales data.

On Friday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said she was concerned about the potential for increased substance abuse related to the stress of COVID-19, in part due to information from Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis.

"The AGLC has reported sharp increases in the sales of wine, beer and liquor as well as cannabis since our public health measures were put in place," Hinshaw said.

When asked on Monday, the AGLC said any potential link between sales and COVID-19 was unclear.

"At this point, we don't know yet if there is a correlation between consumption and the pandemic, as this is the time of year where we generally see an increase in sales due to the warmer months of spring and summer," AGLC spokesperson Heather Holmen said in an email.

"That said, I can't rule it out either, but without attested data, I don't have the full insight."

'Slip of the tongue'

Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said on Monday that Hinshaw's description of a "sharp increase" in sales was a "slip of the tongue."

"Dr. Hinshaw meant to indicate that consumption has generally increased since late February/early March," he said in an email. "This may be for a number of reasons, including the general trend in purchasing/consumption habits increasing in spring and the stress of COVID-19."

How much has consumption increased since late February? The province won't release that information.

Alberta Health says the data would have to come from AGLC, and AGLC won't provide it.

"I'm unable to share that data right now, as it's still being analyzed and is completed by quarter," Holmen said.

The data AGLC provided to Alberta Health was "preliminary and unaudited," she added, and it did not account for other factors that could affect sales, such as seasonal swings.

She said full sales data for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which ended on March 31, will be published "likely in the fall."

'Key point' is that 'help is available'

Hinshaw also cited a poll conducted for the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, which she said found "one in five Canadians who drink alcohol and have been staying at home more due to the COVID-19 pandemic say that they have been drinking daily since the beginning of May."

That same poll found 70 per cent of Canadians reported no change in their alcohol consumption, while 18 per cent said it had increased and 12 per cent said it had decreased. People on the Prairies were most likely out of all the regions surveyed to report no change in consumption.

Nationwide, 90 per cent of people who consume cannabis and were staying at home more due to the pandemic said their consumption had stayed the same, while six per cent said it had increased and four per cent said it had decreased.

McMillan said Hinshaw's main goal in highlighting substance use was to let people know they can find support if they are struggling with addiction.

"The key point was that this is a stressful time and, whatever the reason for consuming addictive substances, help is available," he said.

Alberta Health Services offers an addiction helpline, which is available provincewide by calling 1-866-332-2322.

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