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Cannabis Resources for Environmental Health Practitioners

Topics: Contaminants and Hazards, Food, Practices and Procedures

Legalization of cannabis in 2018 will bring many challenges for Canadian public health professionals, ranging from the difficulties of establishing regulatory frameworks in a short period to the unknown consequences of widespread availability of this psychoactive substance.

This topic page is intended to help environmental health practitioners understand the guiding principles and public health objectives being used to develop cannabis policy, both federally and across the provinces and territories. It also provides key resources describing the “lessons learned” in non-Canadian jurisdictions with legalized cannabis, as well as information regarding environmental health risks in cannabis cultivation and processing (e.g., indoor air quality, chemical and biological contamination, and physical hazards). Finally, we provide resources on various aspects of cannabis regulation, including facilities inspections, packaging and labelling, approaches to edibles and concentrates, and requirements for cannabis laboratories.

Please note: Given the rapid evolution of cannabis regulation, this website should not be taken as a comprehensive listing of all relevant cannabis resources, but rather best examples of resources at the time of publication.

NCCEH Resources

  • Growing at Home: Health and Safety Concerns for Personal Cannabis Cultivation (2018)
    This evidence review identifies health and safety concerns that may be relevant to personal cultivation after cannabis legalization. The document is focused on five key environmental health risks anticipated from growing at home: 1) access and accidental poisoning; 2) indoor air quality; 3) inappropriate use of pesticides; 4) electrical and fire hazards; and 5) radiation hazards. The authors identify policy considerations relevant to each risk, highlight interventions that have been implemented in other jurisdictions, and suggest possible policy options that may mitigate some of these risks.
  • Fact sheet: Environmental Health Risks of Personal Cannabis Cultivation (2018)
    This fact sheet identifies health and safety concerns that may be relevant for personal cultivation and  recommends key messages to help mitigate some of these risks.
  • How We Talk about "Pot" Matters: Risk Messaging around Cannabis Legalization (2017)
    This presentation, originally delivered at the 2017 CIPHI Annual Education Conference in Richmond, BC, provides an overview of some basic risk communication principles as they pertain to cannabis legalization in Canada, and provides suggestions and examples for those shaping public health risk messaging.
  • Recommendations for Safe Re-occupancy of Marijuana Grow Operations (2009)
    This guidance document provides information on safety considerations and remediation of residences previously used for illicit cannabis cultivation. Hazards commonly encountered in former grow operations including physical/structural damage, electrical or fire hazards related to manipulation of the home’s power supply, biological hazards related to humidity and mould, and chemical hazards due to the presence of pesticides, solvents, and fertilizers.

Selected External Resources

Key Documents for Canadian Institutions

  • Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis (Government of Canada, 2017)
    This website provides information on the current status of cannabis laws in Canada, as well as information regarding the proposed Cannabis Act (Bill C-45: An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts).
  • A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada (Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, 2016)
    This report summarizes the recommendations of the Task Force regarding cannabis legalization, which were developed through online and in-person consultation with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, as well as Indigenous governments, researchers and academics, non-governmental organizations, healthcare associations, and industry groups. The report provides a public health approach to legalization, with a focus on minimizing harm, establishing a safe supply, enforcing public safety, ensuring continued medical access.
  • Public Health Perspectives on Cannabis Policy and Regulation (Chief Medical Officers of Health of Canada & Urban Public Health Network, 2016)
    This report provides a consensus perspective on cannabis legalization from Medical Officers of Health from across English Canada. The document provides clarity on critical public health objectives within the context of legalization, and provides jurisdictions with a set of guiding principles for policy development.
  • House of Commons Report and Government Response to Bill C-45 (Parliament of Canada, 2017)
    This website provides links to a number of resources related to parliamentary deliberation over Bill C-45. These include televised (recorded) hearings from expert witnesses on a range of public health and safety issues, as well as written briefs from many of the organizations involved in the hearings.
  • Municipal guide to cannabis legalization: a roadmap for Canadian local governments (Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2018)
    This guidance document offers policy options and practical suggests for local cannabis rules and by-laws. The document focuses on the federal framework, land use management, business regulation, public consumption, cannabis in the workplace, and enforcement issues.

Provincial Cannabis Frameworks

To date, only three Canadian provinces have put forward frameworks for cannabis legalization. This table will be updated as new information is provided.

  Province   Resource
  Alberta   Alberta’s approach to cannabis legalization
  Ontario   News Release: Ontario Releases Safe and Sensible Framework To Manage Federal Legalization of Cannabis
  New Brunswick   News Release: Working group on cannabis legalization releases interim report

Lessons Learned from Other Jurisdictions

  • Hashing it Out: Can We Learn About Cannabis From What We Know About Alcohol? (BC Alliance for Health Living, 2017)
    This webinar, featuring Dr. Tim Stockwell (Centre for Addictions Research of BC) and Dr. Tista Ghosh (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment), discusses the parallels between alcohol and cannabis public health policy, and provides insight into the public health impacts of legalization in Colorado. Further details on monitoring of public health impacts in Colorado can be found here.
  • Cannabis Regulation: Lessons Learned in Colorado and Washington State (Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 2017)
    This report details the lessons learned from fact-finding trips to Colorado and Washington State in 2015, two American jurisdictions that have recently legalized retail cannabis sales. The document briefly summarizes overarching themes from each of these jurisdictions, including the key components necessary to achieve clear, effective, and consistent implementation.
  • Issues in the implementation and evolution of the commercial recreational cannabis market in Colorado (Subritzkey et al., 2016)
    This peer-reviewed article offers a detailed perspective on the regulatory approach used in Colorado, as well as the state’s efforts to contend with the emerging conflict between commercialization (maximizing use and therefore profit) and public health objectives (protecting vulnerable populations). The article also discusses industry growth, taxation and revenue-sharing, shifts in the types and modes of use of cannabis products available, issues with testing and labelling, and trends in the illicit market. This is a highly recommended resource.

Literature on the Beneficial and Adverse Effects of Cannabis

Environmental Health Risks Associated with Cannabis Cultivation

  • Contaminants of Concern in Cannabis: Microbes, Heavy Metals and Pesticides (McPartland et al., 2017)
    This peer-reviewed article outlines the key environmental health concerns related to the consumption of contaminated cannabis and synthesizes the available evidence. The document focuses on health risks due to microbiological contamination, the presence of heavy metal in soil and uptake into plants, and the current issues related to pesticides use.
  • Marijuana edibles: Food Safety and Regulatory Aspects (Warriner, 2016)
    This webinar, originally presented as part of Public Health Ontario’s Grand Rounds, provides an overview of cannabis processing, edibles, and regulatory approaches in the Netherlands, the United States, and Canada. Food safety hazards, pesticide risks, microbial risks, and microbial standards for various product types are discussed. This is a highly recommended resource.
  • IAQ Implications of Cannabis Legalization (Siegel, 2017)
    This commentary summarizes the key concerns around cannabis legalization and indoor air quality issues, including humidity, odour, and secondhand-smoke exposure. Technical, policy, and educational means to reducing indoor exposures are discussed.
  • Consequences of Largescale Production of Marijuana in Residential Buildings (Johnson and Miller, 2011)
    This peer-reviewed article models residential moisture burdens (humidity) caused by indoor cannabis cultivation in three climatically contrasting Canadian cities. Notably, additional moisture from even small numbers of plants was estimated to exceed many homes’ ventilation capacity under some conditions.
  • Marijuana Facilities: Codes, Standards, and Managing the Hazards (Straughan, 2016)
    This technical article provides insight into the design and inspection of large-scale commercial grow operations, as well as cannabis processing facilities, with reference to the relevant American building codes and standards.
  • Marijuana facility guidance v.3 (Colorado Fire Marshals’ Special Task Group, 2016)
    This guidance document (draft) provides information on fire hazards and mitigating measures specific to facilities cultivating, extracting, processing or selling cannabis products. Additional information on fire safety in cannabis cultivation and extraction facilities is available from the National Fire Protection Association.
  • Evidence brief: odours from cannabis production (Public Health Ontario, 2018)
    This evidence review assesses the literature on potential health effects related to odour producing emissions associated with cannabis production facilities. Findings suggested that no studies on health effects associated with exposure to cannabis odour were identified, that odours can result in annoyance and complaints, and that a system to report and track odour could help local authorities remedy potential problems.

Resources for Inspection and Regulation of the Cannabis Industry

  • Packaging and Labelling of Cannabis Products (Morgan, 2017)
    This presentation (slides only) from the 2017 Cannabis Summit organized by the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health (CCDEH), provides insight into current requirements (and common issues with) cannabis product labelling and packaging in California and other American states with legalized retail or medical cannabis. A complete listing of other presentations from this meeting can be found here.
  • Marijuana Infused Edibles Inspection (MIE) (Washington State Department of Agriculture, 2017)
    This website provides an example of one jurisdiction’s approach to ensuring food safety in facilities processing cannabis edibles. The resources include facility design criteria and guidance on food product labelling, as well as the specific types of cannabis-infused food products that are (and are not) permitted in Washington without additional food safety certification.
  • How four U.S. states are regulating recreational marijuana edibles (Gourdet et al., 2017)
    This peer-reviewed article provides an overview of edibles regulation in four American states. It provides a detailed analysis of labelling and packaging requirements as well as information on safe handling of edibles. This is a highly recommended resource.
  • Cannabis Extractions, Concentrates and Infused Edibles (Vu, 2015)
    This presentation, originally delivered at a meeting of the Western Association of Food and Drug Officials in 2015, provides detailed information regarding the City of Denver’s regulatory approach to cannabis concentrates from the perspective of a former health inspector. The presentation covers special concerns related to the various types of potentially hazardous chemical extraction processes and their products. Food safety issues and past investigations for cannabis edibles are also discussed.
  • Cannabis Consumer Protection (Denver Department of Environmental Health, 2017)
    This website outlines Denver’s approach to bringing the cannabis industry in line with existing regulations for all other food establishments. Basic information on cannabis-related food safety inspections in Denver can be found here. Of note, the department has also developed a document entitled Special Concerns Associated with Marijuana Extractions, Concentrations, Infusions, and Infused Foods, which outlines the key food safety concerns associated with cannabis extracts and concentrates.
  • Inspection of Marijuana Testing Facilities (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 2017)
    This website provides the background to and requirements for the inspection and certification of cannabis testing facilities/laboratories in Colorado. Because standard methods for cannabis testing do not yet exist, the Laboratory Services Division of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment have also developed a document entitled Reference Methods for the Testing of Retail and Medical Marijuana, which includes suggested methods for analyzing for potency as well as contaminants of concern (mould, pathogens, residual solvent, and pesticides). Additional information on laboratory accreditation from the state of Oregon can be found here.


This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Omission of a resource does not preclude it from having value.

Last updatedMar 15, 2019