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Non-medical Cannabis Information

A Public Health Approach to Non-Medical Cannabis ​- Letter to Communities from Dr. Evan Adams

Download the letter​ h​ere (PDF 633 KB)

​Most people in BC are aware that non-medical cannabis has been legalized in Canada​, and that there has been extensive public engagement, debate and discussion – including with Indigenous people in BC – to reach this point. Until now, cannabis had only been approved for medicinal purposes, for example, to relieve pain.

While the public health rationale for legalization is that overall risks associated with non-medical cannabis use are expected to decrease, there is still a lot we don't know about non-medical cannabis use, including the long-term risks and benefits. As we often hear from our Elders, it's important to go slowly and carefully when we don't know. They also remind us that it's our responsibility to respect and care for the mind and the body the Creator gave to us.

​​Non-medical cannabis vs. medical cannabis

Throughout the legalization process, cannabis has been referred to as "non-medical" or "medical" to distinguish the avenues through which it could legally be obtained. In the case of First Nations in BC, who often do not have adequate access to culturally safe health providers, or to the healthcare system as a whole, it is not uncommon for individuals to obtain cannabis for medical purposes through non-medical avenues. We recognize that people use cannabis for personal, often complex reasons, and that everyone's circumstances are unique.

Below are some of the key differences between non-medical and medical cannabis in BC.

Non-medical cannabisMedical cannabis​
  • • Purchased through private or public retail outlets.
  • • Must be 19 years of age to purchase.
  • • No medical reason required for purchase.
  • • Quality and safety of the supply are regulated.
  • • Prescribed by a health care provider.
  • • Usage and dosage is planned between the client and provider.
  • • No changes to this system following non-medical legalization.
  • • Quality and safety of the supply are regulated.

How is non-medical cannabis​ distributed?

In BC, the Liquor Distribution Branch is the sole distributor, and retailers are both public and private. Personal cultivation and possession regulations allow up to four plants per household anywhere in the province.

The issue of how, or if, non-medical cannabis will be distributed in community (on-reserve) is not known. A First Nations specific retail application process has been established.​

We do know that approximately 40% of First Nations in BC live in remote areas of the province, and that without proper avenues for access, many First Nations may not be able to obtain legal, non-medical cannabis. This has the potential to result in continued illegal trafficking. Home cultivation can carry potential additional risks including mould, electrical fires, and accidental ingestion of cannabis products by children.

Non-medical cannabis, self-determination and health partnerships

The legalization of non-medical cannabis brings opportunities and challenges for our citizens, caregivers and leaders. We recognize that we have a shared responsibility, along with First Nations community leaders, and the Ministry of Health and our health system partners, to work together to ensure that all Indigenous people in BC have a good understanding of the facts, considerations and risks when it comes to using cannabis for non-medical purposes.

Above all, we recognize the autonomy and self-determination inherent to First Nation communities and, specifically, the right of communities to choose how to address this issue. As partners in health, the FNHC and FNHA will work alongside First Nations to identify and support First Nations' unique interests and regulatory considerations.

Non-medical cannabis and our health

As mentioned, there is still much to learn about the long-term benefits, risks or impacts of cannabis. We have heard that some community members use cannabis as medicine to reduce dependence on other more harmful substances. We have also heard that some community members find their cannabis use is negatively impacting their relationships and has caused them to retreat from family life and become socially isolated. In addition to the known risks to children and youth mentioned above, there is evidence to support the following health risks of non-medical cannabis use:

​​​• problems with thinking, memory or physical co-ordination

• impaired perceptions or hallucinations

• fatal and non-fatal injuries, including those from motor vehicle and boating accidents, due to impairment

• mental health problems

• dependence

• chronic respiratory or lung problems

• reproductive problems

• health complications for pregnant and breastfeeding women

What is our work together around non-medical cannabis legalization?

The issue of non-medical cannabis misuse is complex -- and the management framework including cultivation, regulation and distribution by and for First Nations is still evolving.

First Nations people have been disproportionately negatively affected by promotion of tobacco cigarettes and alcohol, at times using these substances in a self-medicating way to deal with the inter-generational trauma due to the impacts of colonialism, loss of territories, residential school experiences, and racism. The FNHA will therefore continue to work with our provincial partners, including the government, to address and tackle the underlying, root causes of health and substance-use inequities.

These are all things we will all need to keep a close eye on as we work together with Indigenous ​people in BC as health and wellness partners. Please watch for our future public health messages, fact sheets and workshops on this important topic.​​



Health Consideration for First Nations in BC (PDF 753 KB)


Non-medical Cannabis Legalization: What We Have Heard So Far (PDF 593 KB)

Where can people ​go for more info?​


FNHA Blog: Is it safe to smoke Cannabis while pregnant?

FNHA Blog: Cannabis Use and Mental Health Risks to Youth


BC Government Cannabis Page

Get Cannabis Clarity​: BC Cannabis Information Portal

Indigenous Nations' Role in Licensing Non-Medical Cannabis Retail Stores

BC Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat contact:

BC Cannabis Dis​tribution Act

Cannabis Control a​nd Licensing Act

Motor Vehicle Act amendments

BC Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) Updates



Government of Canada Cannabis Page

Cannabis Talk Kit - Know How to Talk With Your Teen 

Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines

Federal Cannabis Act

Federal Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat contact:

Federation of Canadian Municipalities: Municipal Guide to Cannabis Legalization

Licenced Cannabis Production

​Licencing cannabis producers is a federal responsibility. First Nations communities interested in cannabis production can contact the Federal Government's Indigenous applicants' navigator service at:

Federal Economic Opportunities 

The Federal Government's Co​mmunity Opportunity Readiness Program

Federal c​ontact for British Columbia: 


For more information please contact:

Benjamin Rolph at 
604-699-3174 or ​

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