Evaluation of legal cannabis must be prioritized to protect public health: Researchers

published on June 19, 2017

A coalition of leading Canadian academics and researchers is calling on federal policymakers to ensure cannabis research and evaluation are prioritized in order to guide health policy related to the federal government’s plans to legalize and regulate the adult use of cannabis.

“A growing number of countries, including Canada, are moving towards legalizing cannabis use or employing alternative regulatory approaches. These regulatory shifts require a public health approach to better understand cannabis users and use patterns, assess population health, and provide evidence to guide health and social policy and action,” reads an open letter delivered to federal lawmakers and signed by more than 50 leading cannabis and public health researchers from across Canada.

On April 12, 2017, the federal government tabled legislation introducing a regulatory framework for legalization of the adult cannabis use by July 1, 2018. Once passed, the legislation would make Canada the second country in the world after Uruguay to legalize cannabis.

Under widespread global prohibition, cannabis research has been limited by the criminalization and stigmatization of cannabis use and users, leading to substantial gaps in knowledge around the harms and benefits of both medical and non-medical cannabis. For example, although cannabis’ role as a pain reliever is increasingly well known, urgent questions remain about what effect increasing access to medical cannabis might play in the response to the ongoing opioid overdose crisis.

In addition to calling for support of cannabis research focused on potential benefits as well as harms of legalization, the statement calls for legislation to:

  • Support a public health approach to cannabis research focused on potential benefits as well as harms;
  • Support cannabis research focused on the impact of cannabis use on the use of other substances, and related harms and benefits;
  • Create mechanisms for university, community, and clinical researchers to produce, possess, and use cannabis and cannabinoids for research purposes;
  • Create and support dedicated and distinct funds for medical and non-medical cannabis research;
  • Support the formation and functioning of distinct networks of researchers focused on medical and non-medical cannabis throughout Canada.

The open letter can be found here: [English] [French]

The full list of signatories can be found here: [Signatories]


“In the coming years, we expect more than 100 million people in Canada and the United States will have legal access to cannabis. As scientists, we need to closely monitor the creation of the promised public health framework for legal cannabis and evaluate how it mitigates the harms and maximizes the possible benefits of cannabis.”
Dr. M-J Milloy
Research Scientist with the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU)
Assistant Professor in the Division of AIDS, Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia

“Canada is uniquely positioned to develop and deliver the multifaceted research and education that cannabis legalization requires. There is tremendous expertise and interest across the country that is poised to engage and inform this important policy implementation.”
Dr. Mark A. Ware
Associate Professor, Family Medicine & Anesthesia, at McGill University

“An important question for social research after this long-awaited policy change is to understand how cannabis users and non-users alike view the new regulatory law and how it may impact their access, use patterns and assessment of risks, harms and benefits.”
Dr. Patricia Erickson
Professor of Sociology and Criminology, University of Toronto, and Scientist Emerita, CAMH

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For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact:

Kevin Hollett
BC Centre on Substance Use
Phone: 778-918-1537
Email: [email protected]

About the BC Centre on Substance Use
The BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) is a provincially networked organization with a mandate to develop, help implement, and evaluate evidence-based approaches to substance use. Located at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver with researchers based at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, the BCCSU aims to build upon the success of its partner organization, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, by improving the integration of best practices and care across the continuum of responses to substance use through the collaborative development of policies, guidelines, and standards. With the support of the province of BC, BCCSU aims to transform substance use policies, programs, and services by translating research into education and care guidance, thereby serving and improving the health of all British Columbians.