The challenges are numerous for Interior Health now that cannabis has been legalized for both medical and recreational use.
And those challenges sometimes come with more questions than answers as government policy on legalized cannabis continues to evolve, says Aaron Miller, IH corporate director, population health.
While cannabis now falls under the same legalized category as tobacco and alcohol, Miller says the rules for cannabis use in public are unique both for IH staff in their working environments and the public being treated at health facilities or living in government residential care.
In response to Miller’s policy update presentation to the Interior Health board on Wednesday, board director Dennis Rounsville asked why there seems to be a disconnect between the rules associated with consuming alcohol as compared to cannabis.
“It seems alcohol use is more restrictive within public areas while cannabis is not,” Rounsville said.
Miller responded the pathway to legalized cannabis remains a learning process that will be subject to change in the months and years ahead.
He said IH has updated 16 employee policies and procedures after an extensive internal review to incorporate cannabis use rules for staff in their workplace and the public in IH facilities, which will continue to be updated based on new learnings and other unanticipated changes.
Other IH initiatives have included working with municipal governments within the health region to provide information to the public regarding the impacts of cannabis legalization; the IH Integrated Tobacco Team and Healthy Community Development Team working with local governments on bylaw language regarding cannabis smoking in public spaces; and collaborating with other B.C. health regions on advancement and coordination of policies/procedures.
“As with any substance, we are trying to provide education resources to the public to minimize the potential harm while also respecting the philosophy of choice for people. It is definitely a learning process,” Miller said.
He added that legalization of edibles containing cannabis raises concerns such as access to youth and marketing and packaging issues yet to be resolved at the federal government level.
“We are waiting for more information from the federal government regarding edibles,” added Dr. Trevor Cornell, vice-president, population health and chief medical health officer for IH.
“Certainly the chief medical officer of Canada and the provincial public health officers are currently doing what they can to influence prevention aspects and risks around that.”
Calling the legalization of cannabis “an interesting social experiment that should be viewed from a community health perspective,” IH board chair Doug Cochrane suggested efforts should be made to track the unintended consequences and health effects that result.
“We did not do that rigorously enough around tobacco and alcohol early on, so I am wondering if there are plans to handle cannabis differently or will we wait until 10 years down the road when other things draw our attention to those issues,” he suggested.
Miller reiterated to Cochrane that understanding the impact of legalized cannabis has become a daily learning process.
“I don’t know about any tracking studies at this point but I feel we have much to learn as more and more research begins to be carried out around this. I don’t think it will be a quick process but it will be a learning process for everyone,” Miller said.