To mark the recent legalization of recreational marijuana, we check in with some of the key players in the B.C. cannabis world. From pot growers to government officials to medical professionals, meet the people helping move the industry forward and keep British Columbians safe. Today’s subject is Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer
Bonnie Henry spent three years as deputy provincial health officer before taking her current role in February. The physician and UBC clinical associate professor, who specializes in public health and preventative medicine, is the first woman to hold the job.
When it comes to legalization of recreational cannabis, what expertise do you bring?
A lot of my expertise is around looking at population health risk assessment, being able to understand how things impact people in different age groups and populations. The benefit of regulating consumer products using a public health approach is something I believe in and that we’ve been looking at around cannabis. But also as we’re dealing with the overdose crisis, I have a strong belief that we need to look at decriminalizing people who use drugs, and that putting people who use drugs in the criminal justice system serves nobody.
From a public health perspective, how prepared is B.C. for legalization?
There’s bound to be some hiccups and challenges, but we’ve done a fairly extensive job. We’ve prepared lots of information for people, and that’s going to be out there a bit more in the public eye. We just have to wait and see. I personally think it’s going to be a little blip, and there’s going to be some people who try it for the first time, and I might be one of them.
Looking ahead, what are you most concerned about?
We want to make sure that people who are going to try it and experiment for the first time have an understanding of what’s in the product and what the potential side effects can be, particularly young people.
What message do you have for businesses that will sell recreational cannabis?
Businesses have a responsibility to understand that cannabis is not just an innocuous food product. Like with alcohol, everybody has a part to play in trying to minimize the harms. So providing factual information, making sure that customers are aware of some of the risks, not giving misinformation or overblown information about benefits of cannabis use.