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Canadians appear to be sticking to pre-legalization methods of buying cannabis, while the stigma around the drug remains high and overall support for legalization seems to be fading, a new survey suggests.

The survey by researchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and the University of Guelph in Ontario found that 50.1 per cent of surveyed Canadians agree with the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis, down from 68.6 per cent in 2017. The percentage of people who say they neither agree nor disagree with legalization has nearly tripled, from just under seven per cent to more than 20 per cent.

Sylvain Charlebois, the Dalhousie professor who led the study, believes the government may have intentionally attempted to dampen the enthusiasm and excitement that surrounded legalization, leading to the current decline in enthusiasm.

“A few years ago, the Liberals invited Canada to a huge party with balloons, great music, great fun – only to end up in a very boring room with classical music,” Charlebois told CTVNews.ca.

Support for legalization was found to be highest in Atlantic Canada, at 56.3 per cent. B.C., which led the country in 2017 with 79.2 per cent support, showed the least zeal this time around, as 49.3 per cent of B.C. residents said they still agree legalization is a good idea.

The study was based on an online survey of 1,051 Canadians over four days in April. It has an estimated margin of error of 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

PURCHASING PROBLEMS

Another factor behind the drop in support could be the supply shortages and slow retail roll-outs that have plagued parts of Canada since legalization.

The study found that a majority of Canadian cannabis consumers are still buying at least some of their cannabis from the same sources they used pre-legalization, with 31 per cent reporting no change in their points of purchase and 30 per cent saying they use new, legal means of procuring the drug only some of the time.

Price, quality and convenience were repeatedly cited as the biggest reasons behind Canadians’ decision to stick with their existing cannabis suppliers. Charlebois said privacy is another major factor.

“I’m not sure that people are willing to compromise that by just walking into a shop owned by a Crown corporation. There’s nothing private about that,” he said.

The stigma seems to persist beyond the point of purchase. More than one-third of people surveyed for the study said they would not want to work with someone who uses cannabis recreationally. There were also significant declines from 2017 in the percentage of people who expressed interested in purchasing cannabis-infused foods at restaurants and supermarkets, with 25 per cent of respondents going as far as to say they would stop frequenting a restaurant if it introduced cannabis-infused foods to its menu.

“We’re far, far away from seeing cannabis becoming socially normalized – we’re actually quite a few years away,” Charlebois said.

WHAT ABOUT EDIBLES?

Cannabis enthusiasm may ramp up this fall, as the government has set Oct. 17 as the latest possible date for edibles to be legally available to consumers.

While slightly more than six per cent of people surveyed for the study said they started using cannabis after it was legalized, 20 per cent said they would consider trying it once edibles – a category including foods, beverages, lotions and inhalable extracts – become available.

That might seem like a large potential market to be captured, but Charlebois said the cannabis industry is retreating from its initial optimism around edibles because of draft regulations released by Health Canada.

The draft regulations suggest that the government is looking to mandate plain packaging for all edibles intended to be sold, while not allowing any package to contain more than a single dose of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC.

No date has been given for the release of the finalized regulations for commercial producers of edibles, only that they will be made public no later than Oct. 17.

Four days after that is election day – something Charlebois expects is weighing heavily on the government’s mind as it attempts to live up to its promise of legalizing cannabis while also avoiding the appearance of celebrating it.

“They’re so obsessed with the idea of limiting risks,” he said.

“The last thing they want is some five-year-old kid who accidentally ingested a cannabis-infused chocolate bar and ended up in hospital in the middle of the campaign.”