Reasons for Purchasing Cannabis From Illegal Sources in Legal Markets: Findings Among Cannabis Consumers in Canada and U.S. States, 2019-2020

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2022 May;83(3):392-401.


Objective: Nonmedical cannabis is legal in Canada and several U.S. states. Displacing the illegal market is a primary goal of legalization; however, there are little data on factors that predict consumers' transition from the illegal to the legal market. The current study aimed to examine reasons for purchasing illegal cannabis and, thus, potential barriers to purchasing legal cannabis among consumers in Canada and U.S. states.

Method: Data are from the 2019 and 2020 International Cannabis Policy Study, a repeat cross-sectional survey conducted among 16- to 65-year-olds. Reasons for purchasing illegally in the past 12 months were asked of male and female cannabis consumers in Canada and U.S. legal states (n = 11,659). Changes over time in reasons for illegal purchasing were tested. Analyses among Canadians also examined associations between reasons for illegal purchasing and objective data on cannabis prices and retail density.

Results: In both years, the most commonly reported barriers to legal purchasing were price (Canada: 35%-36%; United States: 27%) and inconvenience (Canada: 17%-20%; U.S.: 16%-18%). In 2020 versus 2019, several factors were less commonly reported as barriers in Canada, including inconvenience (17% vs. 20%, p = .011) and location of legal sources (11% vs. 18%, p < .001). Certain barriers increased in the United States, including slow delivery (5% vs. 8%, p = .002) and requiring a credit card (4% vs. 6%, p = .008). In Canada, consumers in provinces with more expensive legal cannabis were more likely to report price as a barrier, and those in provinces with fewer legal retail stores were more likely to report inconvenience as a barrier (p < .001).

Conclusions: Higher prices and inconvenience of legal sources were common barriers to purchasing legal cannabis. Future research should examine how perceived barriers to legal purchasing change as legal markets mature.

MeSH terms

  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cannabis*
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hallucinogens*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • United States


  • Hallucinogens