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A public health approach to cannabis legalization

Dianne Milson   Oct-19-2018

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With legalization fast approaching, there is much speculation as to what the potential impact cannabis regulation may have in our communities.

As an agency that supports and helps those using substances, we will remain dedicated to providing holistic treatment programs, and a nuanced prevention approach that incorporates harm reduction messages and health promotion initiatives. We will continue to respond to the needs of the community as we all adapt to the changing landscape during this time of transition.



What we do know is that there will be new laws regulating recreational cannabis that take effect Oct. 17, with aims to accomplish three goals: keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth, keeping profits out of the hands of criminals, and protecting public health and safety by allowing adults access to safe, legal cannabis.

Richmond Addiction Services Society agrees that regulation is an important step towards addressing cannabis use in Canada. However, we urge the municipal, provincial/territorial, federal, and Indigenous peoples’ governing agencies to consider the following recommendations in order to meet the objectives of the stated goals:

• Comprehensive funding to all levels of prevention including but not limited to: health promotion initiatives, public education, harm reduction services, treatment services.

• Price and profit controls including restrictions around distribution, taxation that will be redistributed to prevention and treatment programs, tax rates established based on THC concentrations, pricing regulations that minimize the potential for a black market, sales from government-run or approved outlets only, and not to be co-located with sales of alcohol or tobacco.

• Product restrictions including prohibiting branding, advertising, promotion or sponsorship of events, labelling requirements that communicate risks, concentrations, ingredients and what an average standard dose may be.

• Supplier restrictions including restrictions on THC concentrations, supplier training, licensing requirements.

• Customer restrictions include age, use location, maximum purchase quantities, proof of residency, driving restrictions, and enhanced penalties for sales personnel and adults who supply cannabis to those who are underage.

These recommendations support a public health perspective to cannabis legalization, which considers the potential risks and benefits of substance use.

Although there is still much we need to learn about the effects of cannabis use, we do know that early and regular use of cannabis results in the greatest harms. Youth in Richmond have similar rates of cannabis use as Vancouver, with youth accessing cannabis through the illicit market. Although it’s unlikely that legalization will eliminate the illicit market completely, it has the potential to limit the involvement of illegal activities. We also recognize that problematic substance or behaviour use is often symptomatic of underlying bio-psycho-social-spiritual-environmental issues and adopting an integrated approach that ensures adequate programs and services are in place when new policies are implemented will help reduce negative outcomes. At RASS, we will continue to focus on programs that promote healthy and whole individuals, families and communities because we know that when people feel empowered, connected and valued, substance use drops. This includes building individual capacity and nurturing resilience as we adapt to the changing environment where drugs are already accessible.

Lastly, regulatory frameworks must be flexible to adapt to surprises or challenges that may arise. This requires thorough and comprehensive data collection and analysis in order to monitor the impact of the new regulatory framework. We also know, from lessons learned in the States of Colorado and Washington, that it is easier to start with more restrictive measures and scale back.

It is often difficult for communities to address complex issues such as drug policy and drug use, and Richmond is no different. We encourage everyone to engage in dialogue that involves curiosity, a deep level of empathy, and is contingent on one another truly listening to each other. Let us engage in the vital conversation of what is happening in people’s lives and how Richmond can collectively create and participate in a society where all people are supported and included.

For the full Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse and Addiction report on lessons learned in Colorado and Washington State, please visit:

To access a parent’s guide to cannabis and youth, please click.

Visit WorkSafeBC on how to prepare for cannabis legalization in the workplace. To view the Cannabis Act click.

Dianne Milson is board president of Richmond Addiction Service Society.

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