Prescribe with Caution: The Response of Canada’s Medical Regulatory Authorities to the Therapeutic Use of Cannabis

Nola M Ries


Canada was one of the first countries worldwide to legalize the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The federally regulated cannabis access program has not had the support of medical regulatory authorities, however, and recent changes to federal rules are controversial in imposing responsibility on physicians to prescribe the drug, which is unapproved and illegal outside the medical use laws. This paper analyzes the response of Canada’s ten medical regulatory authorities to these legal changes and provides critical commentary on the legal and ethical guidance provided to physicians who treat patients seeking to use cannabis therapeutically. The paper considers the role of doctors as gatekeepers, the profession’s concerns about medico-legal risks of cannabis prescription, stigmatization and barriers to care for patients who use cannabis, and the need for research to continue to build the evidence base to inform therapeutic prescription of the drug. The Canadian experience provides lessons for other jurisdictions that are considering liberalizing cannabis use laws.

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