Legal cannabis sales up, alcohol takes a hit in N.S.

Nova Scotians bought more cannabis and less alcohol last year, according to new figures from the NSLC. (CBC - image credit)
Nova Scotians bought more cannabis and less alcohol last year, according to new figures from the NSLC. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotians bought more legal cannabis last year than the year before, continuing an upward trend that's been going since the drug was legalized nearly six years ago.

The Nova Scotia Liquor Corp., the provincial Crown corporation that controls all sales of liquor and legal recreational cannabis in the province, released its year-end financial results Tuesday.

The results show cannabis sales went up 8.9 per cent to a total of $121 million. That's nearly four times as much as the NSLC sold in its first year of cannabis sales in 2019. Cannabis now accounts for nearly 14 per cent of the NSLC's overall sales.

The number of cannabis transactions went up 12.2 per cent and people spent an average of $37.37 per transaction, which is a decrease of three per cent. That dip, however, is at least partly a reflection of a four per cent decrease in the price per gram, according to a news release from the corporation.

According to a survey conducted by Health Canada on cannabis use, about a third of Canadians were still buying marijuana from the illicit market as of last year.

Terah MacKinnon, a spokesperson for the NSLC, said the corporation is focused squarely on its own mandate of providing legal cannabis, not on the illicit market. But this year's financial figures tell at least part of the story of how Nova Scotians are buying their pot.

Illegal dispensary concerns

"We believe an increase in access, combined with our shoppers recognizing that we are the place to purchase safe and legal cannabis is contributing to an increase in sales," MacKinnon said in an interview.

Nova Scotia Finance Minister Allan MacMaster recently told reporters he was concerned about the persistence of an illicit cannabis market in Nova Scotia, but he did not have a clear answer about how the PC government is addressing the issue.

"Anybody can see that there are many illegal dispensaries around the province," MacMaster said.

When asked by reporters whether the province needs more NSLC outlets that sell cannabis, he deferred to the corporation.

MacKinnon said one new cannabis store is in the works. She said a lease has been signed for a location in the Dartmouth Crossing shopping area, and it's projected to open in 2025 or 2026.

Alcohol sales flat or down

Meanwhile, the movement of alcohol from NSLC shelves last year was either close to flat, or down, depending on the metric you look at.

Sales went up 0.5 per cent to $753.4 million, while volume of alcohol sold went down 4.2 per cent.

The number of transactions for alcohol decreased by 2.3 per cent, but people were spending more on each transaction by three per cent, bringing it to an average of $39.78 spent per person at the till.

Overall, the NSLC posted a small bump in overall sales and a small dip in earnings.

Sales went up 1.6 per cent to $874.5 million, while net income went down 0.3 per cent to $283.8 million.