Journal of Professional Nursing

The Increasing Use of Cannabis in Family Settings - A Nursing Concern  

Margeret Woodbridge, RGON, Plunket Cert., BA, MCNA(NZ) Lecturer - Nursing, UCOL, Palmerston North

Reference:  Woodbridge, M. (2001). The increasing use of cannabis in family settings - A nursing concern. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, (17)2, 44-53.


New Zealand is currently debating the pros and cons, ifs and buts, of legalising marijuana. Community child health nurses (CCHNs) can usefully contribute to the discussion. In their practice, they commonly face moral and ethical dilemmas associated with cannabis use (including passive exposure) by pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers, family members, and children. There is clear evidence that the health of children is being put at risk and that New Zealand, a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC, 1989, p.16), is failing to uphold Article 24 which refers to the right to “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health”. This article examines some of the evidence of this failure and outlines the implications for children and for the wider population. It calls upon nurses to accept, with urgency, their social responsibility to advocate for children by entering this debate and speaking out about what they know.  

Community child health nursing, children’s rights, social responsibility, advocacy, cannabis 

Nursing is a social mission. In order to be effective agents of health promotion nurses need to be involved in the current debate about the legalisation of cannabis. Many child health nurses are aware of critical incidents in their practice when they have chosen to ignore cannabis use, in the interests of establishing and maintaining the trust, respect, contact, continuing discourse and mutual information sharing that is vital in a nurse’s partnership with clients. Child advocacy is concerned with identifying and correcting ongoing practices and policies that may be seriously harmful to child welfare and health, and is therefore an important role for nurses. A key issue for community child health nurses (CCHNs) is that cannabis can inhibit a child’s opportunity to “enjoyment of the highest standard of health” (UNCROC, 1989, p.16).   

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