Cannabis shops concentrate in low-income neighbourhoods

Study looks at number of shops, hours, locations and operating models after legalization in Canada

August 13, 2019

“These preliminary data suggest that recreational cannabis shops are concentrating in low-income neighbourhoods, and that recreational cannabis may be more available in provinces and territories that are allowing the sale of cannabis through privately run shops,” - Dr. Daniel MyranSix months after recreational cannabis became legal in Canada, 260 cannabis shops had opened across the country, with twice as many concentrated in low-income neighbourhoods compared to high-income neighbourhoods. The results are published in CMAJ Open by a team of researchers from The Ottawa Hospital, the University of Ottawa and Bruyère Research Institute.

The study also found that in provinces and territories with privately-owned shops (as opposed to government owned shops):

  • There were 49 percent more shops per person
  • Shops were open 9.2 more hours per week on average
  • Shops were located around 167 metres closer to schools

“These preliminary data suggest that recreational cannabis shops are concentrating in low-income neighbourhoods, and that recreational cannabis may be more available in provinces and territories that are allowing the sale of cannabis through privately run shops,” said lead author Dr. Daniel Myran, a family physician and public health resident at the University of Ottawa who is also training at The Ottawa Hospital and Bruyère Research Institute. “We hope this study, combined with other data, will help governments make evidence-informed decisions as the landscape around recreational cannabis continues to evolve.”

On October 17, 2018, Canada became the first high-income country to legalize recreational cannabis nation-wide. While some federal regulations are in place, each of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories was able to choose its own retail model (government owned and operated, privately operated or a hybrid of the two) and develop additional regulations on how cannabis could be sold. Five jurisdictions chose a government model for cannabis shops, five chose a private model, two chose a hybrid model and one has no retail shops. All jurisdictions also allow online sales.

The research team made a list of all cannabis shops in Canada using information from government websites. They noted the shops’ locations and hours of operation, checking directly with the shops if necessary. Then the team gathered school locations from CanMap and average income by postal code from Statistics Canada. They sorted neighbourhoods into quintiles (fifths) according to average income, and documented the number of cannabis shops within one kilometre of the centre of each neighbourhood. The researchers found that 587 neighbourhoods in the lowest income quintile had one or more shops compared to 245 neighbourhoods in the highest income quintile.

“Canada is conducting a huge, unprecedented experiment in legalizing recreational cannabis, and it’s crucial to gather as much data as we can,” said Dr. Peter Tanuseputro, senior author of the paper, physician-scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, investigator at Bruyère and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. “We need to understand not only where and how cannabis is being sold, but also what the impacts are on health and society. We hope our study provides a piece of this puzzle.”

Full reference: Access to cannabis retail stores across Canada six months following legalization: a descriptive study. Daniel T Myran, Catherine R L Brown, Peter Tanuseputro. CMAJ Open. Aug 13, 2019

Funding: This study had no specific funding, although the Bruyère Research Institute funded the open access publication and The Ottawa Hospital Foundation supports all research at The Ottawa Hospital. 

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