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Cannabis legalization in Canada

by RPN

The Cannabis Act comes into effect across Canada in October 2018. As nurses we are familiar with current practice of controlled substances where medical cannabis is prescribed, but legalization of non-medical cannabis will require nurses to have a greater understanding of our role and the patient implications of non-medical cannabis.

The impetus for legalization of cannabis was taking a public health and harm reduction approach that is aimed at protecting the health of young people by restricting their access to cannabis and reducing illicit cannabis activities in relation to cannabis. Moreover, the legalization of cannabis in Canada will reduce the burden on our criminal justice system as it relates to cannabis, provide access to safe, quality-controlled supply of cannabis, and help raise awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.

While federal government was accountable for the legalization of non-medical cannabis in Canada, each province or territory will be accountable for the implementation of legalization in that province or territory.

From a nursing perspective, the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) conducted a national survey to assess knowledge levels of nurses as it relates to cannabis and found that the majority of respondents were knowledgeable of the risks and harms associated with non-medical cannabis use, but one of the gaps identified was in knowledge about health risks associated with methods of consumption. Nurses also identified that stigma and bias were barriers to discussing health and safety risks of non-medical cannabis use.

To support RPNs with this new legislation WeRPN developed a self-learning module as a resource for RPNs that will be available in October 2018. This free self-learning education will be available on the WeRPN website and is focused on providing:

  • a background to legalization, both federal and provincial;
  • an overview about the differences with medical and non-medical cannabis;
  • our role as nurses when providing care to our clients who use non-medical cannabis;
  • the ethical considerations;
  • health effects and reducing harm with the various forms of non-medical cannabis, and;
  • the occupational health and safety concerns.

To access more information please visit the CNO website:

College of Nurses of Ontario – Cannabis Legalization – No change for nurses

For additional information and inquiries, CNO can be contacted directly at 1-800-387-5526 ext. 6397

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