“Nothing beats it coming to your mailbox.”
A driving factor behind Canadian legalization was to control and tax marijuana products — and to wean consumers off the black market. But as the demand for marijuana products has evolved, Canadian regulators realized that they need to meet consumers in two entirely new venues: online cannabis sales and the sketchier market of THC vape cartridges.
David Hammond, Ph.D., a professor of Public Health at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, explains that there is a significant movement toward buying marijuana products online. Before legalization, he noticed that was happening for dried flower. His 2018 paper, published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, found that delivery-only services were prominent in the year before legalization in Canada. Across the 13 cities, there were 791 delivery-only retailers and only 157 storefronts, he found.
When it came to flower, online stores help offset the black market. Part of that initial wave of Canadian legalization meant opening licensed dispensaries. But it also involved setting up government-run or licensed shops online, which fielded a speedy 100 orders per minute on legalization day last year. There have been growing pains, like long wait times, though Hammond says that still online sales are something the US could learn from:
“Honestly, I never could understand why they don’t have online sales in the US,” Hammond tells Inverse. “In some ways, it’s actually easier to regulate. It’s like asking the question, ‘do people like to buy consumer goods online?’”
Viviana Zanocco, the manager of corporate communications for the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, British Columbia’s only government-run online cannabis store, declined to share sales data from both online and brick and mortar stores, but tells Inverse that they completed exactly 148,754 online transactions in the first year of business.
In Ontario, the province with the second-highest amount of legal cannabis sales in Canada 2019, a spokesperson for Ontario’s online cannabis store tells Inverse that the store completed more than one million online sales last year.
There’s evidence that millennials, (who traditionally have taken part in Canada’s marijuana market) prefer to shop online for other products: There’s the convenience, variety, and the ability to avoid talking to a real person. These are also the pros of shopping for cannabis online, says Canadian Mom Son, a cannabis reviewer and Youtuber in Ontario.
“In my opinion, mail order marijuana is amazing and convenient,” Canadian Mom Son tells Inverse. “This has opened a whole new online world for [the] mail order cannabis community … nothing beats its coming to your mailbox.”
When it comes to winning consumers away from the black market, this service could prove even more important for pre-filled vaping cartridges. Hammond explains that in his forthcoming work, which analyzed 45,000 illegal products, including THC vapes, he found that illegal online sales are more common than illegal sales in brick and mortar stores.
Man dances, holding Canadian Flag with Marijuana Leaf in the middle instead of Maple Leaf, during Cannabis Legalization Day at Trinity Bellwoods Park,
Will Canada’s online legal framework be able to compete? Hammond says it could, theoretically: “In theory, it should be just as easy to order legal products online as it is would be illegal.”
We asked Zanocco, of the BC Liquor Distribution Branch of the how it intends to do just that:
“We will compete with the black market by offering devices and products that are approved by Health Canada,” Zanocco tells Inverse.
The good news for the Canadian government is that consumers are used to buying pre-filled THC vapes online. The bad news is that they’ll be tasked with deposing an established shadow economy that has been controlling the market in the absence of legal vape products.
There’s good news, though: If the consumer experiences are any indication, users are getting sick of the black market, anyway.