Medical Cannabis & Patient Rights
October 25, 2018
With more than 330,000 patients across Canada (as of June 2018), which is nearly one third more than the same time the previous year, it is clear that there is a need and a place for the medical cannabis industry. And as the number of patients continues to climb, we believe the need for patient advocacy climbs with it. Between getting your cannabis covered by your insurance company to joining the fight to end the excise tax for medical cannabis, there has never been a better time to stand up for your rights.
Advocating for Insurance Coverage
Medical cannabis is quite different from other prescription medications, and one of the big dividers is insurance coverage. While it is simple to get most doctor-prescribed medicine included with your health insurance plan, cannabis is more complicated. In Canada, cannabis has no official Drug Identification Number (DIN. However, more and more companies are now stepping up to support their own employees by stating that medical cannabis will be covered, often through one’s Health Spend account. And as more patients begin speaking up for their right to have their medical cannabis covered like any other medication, we believe that more companies and unions will rise to the challenge.
To advocate for your own medical cannabis coverage, first you must already be covered under a third party extended health plan. Purchase of your cannabis has to be through a legally-sourced licensed producer . Start by gathering evidence to support your claim, including evidence of your successful treatment, supporting documentation (such as a letter from a medical professional) and information regarding previous treatments or medications that have been tried. Next, contact your plan administrator (often your union or company’s HR department) and ask for the plan to add coverage for medical . Keep in mind that there is still stigma surrounding cannabis, so it is at your own discretion that you ultimately bring this up with your employer. It may be helpful to provide information of other companies or plans that support medical cannabis coverage.
Fighting to Repeal Your Excise Tax
As of October 17, 2018, all Canadian licensed producers now have their cannabis taxed at $1 per gram or 10% of the sale price (whichever is greater) under an “excise tax”. Right now, the excise tax applies to both recreational and medical cannabis sales. However, patients and advocates across Canada are speaking out to let the government know that imposing a tax on medical cannabis is wrong. Usually reserved for products deemed to have a high social cost (such as alcohol and tobacco), we believe that the excise tax is creating more hardship for families and patients across Canada, many of whom have challenges in paying the cost of their medical cannabis. In addition to the excise tax cost, medical cannabis is subject to sales tax.
Emblem understands the burden of paying for your medicine, which is why we are absorbing approximately half of the excise tax cost, which means increasing product prices by $0.50/g (or equivalent for oils) instead of the full $1/g (or equivalent) or more excise tax increase. To do this, we are taking existing funds that would have otherwise been used toward product development and other key business activities, and placing them in a Patient Access Investment Fund account, with 100% of the interest generated going to offset the portion of the excise tax we are absorbing for our patients. If and when the government eliminates the excise tax for medical cannabis purchases, these funds will go back to their initial intended use—developing innovative, cannabinoid-driven products for the medical cannabis community.
Despite the fact that we lost the initial battle to have medical cannabis exempt from the excise tax, the advocacy group Canadians For Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) is continuing their #DontTaxMedicine campaign, hoping to change this government decision. You can join the movement at donttaxmedicine.ca, where you will find ways to share your opinions and support the campaign directly. CFAMM also has a template letter you can email to the House Finance Committee and your MP, asking them to remove taxes on medical cannabis. You can use the template provided or add your own personal story, telling the government exactly how this excise tax affects you financially and personally.
As both patients and licensed producers, we are in this fight together for as long as it takes and we will make our own voices heard loud and clear. You can do the same by advocating for insurance coverage and contacting the government, voicing your opinion about the unfairness and hardship of taxing medical cannabis. Now go out and make your voice heard!