Cannabis legalization: what can public health do?

Printer Friendly, PDF & Email

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Given the complexities of the Cannabis Act (2017) , public health communities will face a series of challenges as the Act’s implementation rolls out. Attention to a few key issues may help to mitigate some potential risks.


Education campaigns and public discourse will be essential to promoting health and safety. We need to adequately and fairly inform users of the risks to themselves and others, while at the same time avoiding reliance on stereotypes, fear, and stigma. This will require a focus on harm reduction while acknowledging that there is still a great deal of uncertainty around the risks of cannabis cultivation and consumption.

Tracking and surveillance

Tracking and developing surveillance tools is going to be a critical part of this transition. Not only do we need to capacitate poison control centres but we must take advantage of legalization to do meaningful research and harness some of the health data we need to gradually reduce the uncertainties.

The importance of being proactive

As with many emerging issues, public health needs to be proactive. This first stage of legalization is just that: the first step. Within a year, the sale of edible products will become legal, different jurisdictions will begin discussions about concentrates and cannabis processing, and law enforcement agencies and municipalities will begin to see the effects of their different approaches to impaired driving, waste management, and public education campaigns. Proactive approaches are necessary to circumvent some of these issues before they become public health problems.

Some useful cannabis resources for public health professionals

The National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health develops knowledge products for public health professionals and provides them with the information they need when creating new policies and practices. We have published a comprehensive evidence review titled Growing at Home: Health and Safety Concerns for Personal Cannabis Cultivation, a fact sheet that provides key points on this issue for other interested stakeholders, and a topic page that outlines valuable external resources that cover different public health perspectives on cannabis, legalization updates and provincial frameworks, environmental health effects, inspection and regulation guidelines, and lessons learned from other jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis. In the coming year, we will continue to update and add resources for public health communities to enable evidence-informed decision making.