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Cannabis legalization: No change in practice expectations for Ontario nurses

cannabis and stethoscope On Oct. 17, 2018, the Government of Canada legalized the recreational use of cannabis. While the law has changed, the accountabilities of nurses registered with the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) have not. As self-regulating professionals, nurses are required to ensure their practice and conduct meets the requirements of the profession and protects the public. 

Mood-altering substances, such as cannabis, can impair the judgment and ability of nurses. This puts patients at risk. Under the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991, working while impaired is considered professional misconduct. Nurses with impaired judgment affected by any substance (for example, opiates, alcohol and/or cannabis) must not provide patient care. Failing to meet this expectation may result in an investigation by the CNO. 

Nurses are also responsible to report to their employer when they believe another nurse or health care provider is impaired. In this situation, employers must take immediate action to ensure public safety. This might involve removing the nurse from practice until the nurse is no longer a risk to the public. CNO encourages employers to have substance use and impairment policies in the workplace. 

Learn more about nurses’ accountabilities in the Professional Standards, Revised 2002, Ethics and Therapeutic Nurse-Client Relationship, Revised 2006 practice standards.

Page last reviewed October 17, 2018