Pot consumers paying less than $7 a gram, Statistics Canada survey finds
Cannabis is cheapest in Quebec and most expensive in Northwest Territories
Canadians pay an average of less than $7 a gram for pot, according to Statistics Canada data collected through a crowdsourcing pilot project.
More than 15,000 Canadians have participated in StatsCan's online survey since Jan. 25, exceeding expectations of 1,000 to 2,000 entries.
Broken down by province and territory, the average price for a gram of dried cannabis ranges from a low of $5.89 in Quebec to a high of $11.89 in Northwest Territories, compared to the nationwide average of $6.79, according to the data provided to CBC News.
In the online survey form, StatsCan provides 2017 price estimates averaged from a variety of sources, which are higher than the data collected through this crowdsourcing initiative. StatsCan economist Conrad Barber-Dueck said this sample might report lower prices because it includes a higher rate of daily users who generally buy in bigger, cheaper quantities.
Asked if people might be lowballing the price in order to drive down the retail price when cannabis becomes legal, the agency said it's hard to see collusion.
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"We don't know if people are misreporting, although at nearly 16,000 respondents from across the country, it would be difficult for respondents to have a co-ordinated effort to skew the results," said Barber-Dueck.
StatsCan has been quality controlling the responses to make sure robots or "silly answers" aren't included, and so far only two per cent have been discarded.
The average price reported is lower than the $10-a-gram estimate used when the federal government reached a tax revenue-sharing agreement with the provinces and territories in December.
StatsCan 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 in information gaps as Canada gets set to legalize marijuana. 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.
On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said pricing has not been finalized, but it will be determined by market circumstances. While organized crime may try and skew pricing in its favour, he said consumers will ultimately choose products that must meet health and safety regulations.
"Ultimately, that is the market that Canadians will choose, rather than dealing with a corner drug dealer who's going to sell them poison product that could kill them," he said.
Health and safety
The Liberal government has framed its legalization plan around health and safety, arguing a regulated regime will keep marijuana away from minors and wipe out the illicit black market.
At a recent cabinet retreat in London, Ont., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said anyone now purchasing pot is funding criminal organizations and gangs.
Many experts have warned that it could take years to make a dent in the black market, as businesses ramp up to meet demand and stabilize pricing.
Competitive pricing is considered a key factor in wiping out the black market. While illegal sellers can undercut the retail market in pricing, some consumers in other jurisdictions such as Alaska have shown a preference for the regulated, tested product purchased in a retail location, even if it is more expensive.
Displacing black market
Thierry Bélair, spokesperson for Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, said the legislative regime will allow a competitive legal market that aims to displace the illegal market. Provinces and territories will be responsible for regulating, distributing and overseeing the retail sale of cannabis after legalization and can set prices accordingly.
"We are confident legalization and regulation will help dramatically reduce the market share for organized crime," Bélair said in an email.
Under the new system, consumers will access to a product that will be regulated and tested, unlike the illegal cannabis sold now, he added.