News on Canadians’ use of cannabis seems to center on the message that the government intends to fully legalize and tightly regulate the substance “sometime in 2017.” Beyond that, one can be forgiven in having the impression that progress toward that goal is effectively frozen in a maze of bureaucracy, investigative committees and businesses vying for prime positions in the anticipated “green rush.”

What can get lost in this cacophony are the voices of the people who, ultimately, may have the most to gain (and lose) in the final outcome of the legalization process: patients suffering from disease symptoms that might be effectively treated with cannabis.

In an effort to avoid that, three leading advocacy groups (all members of the CMCC Patient Advisory Committee) came forward on August 29 to present the Task Force on the Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana a brief intended to influence the government in addressing the needs of existing and potential medical cannabis patients. (The complete submission can viewed and/or downloaded here.)

The recommendations were presented in a shared statement from The Arthritis Society, the Canadian AIDS Society and Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. The brief was signed by 14 supporters, including representatives of the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, among others.

The Executive Summary is a formal request for the Task Force to include the signatories in working toward enacting policies that preserve and extend affordable access to medical cannabis, while facilitating further research.

The specific recommendations:

1. Patients must have access to a supply of medical cannabis in all its forms and potencies that is regulated for safety, potency and quality.

2. Patients must have access to a reliable supply of medical cannabis through a variety of distribution options.

3. Patients must be informed about how to access medical cannabis as well as safe and effective use of different forms of medical cannabis (e.g., concentrates, dried flowers, edibles, etc.).

4. Medical cannabis is a medical necessity and its cost should not be subject to GST, HST or provincial sales tax.

5. The regulatory approach to medical cannabis must enable health insurance plans, both public and private, to be able to reimburse for medical cannabis as they do now for prescription drugs.

6. The federal government must actively expand the evidence base on the medical use of cannabis through enhanced support and promotion of medical cannabis research.

7. The federal government must use additional policy levers at its disposal to help support and promote research into medical cannabis.

While all the recommendations are valid, we call particular attention to the calls for lowering costs to patients. There is currently an arbitrary distinction between cannabis and other medications in terms of taxes and insurance coverage, which acts as a formidable obstacle to patient access. We support a zero-rating tax classification on cannabis, and expanding coverage by private and public insurance providers.  

Accordingly, it’s appropriate to take this opportunity to call attention to CMCC’s Parliamentary petition to compel Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to cover the costs of medical cannabis extracts. We have 400 of the 500 signatures needed to get Parliament to consider this petition, so–if you haven’t already done so–we urge you to sign the petition here

Cost continues to be an obstacle to access to medical cannabis, and the CMCC is proud to work with LPs, policy makers, insurers, and patient organizations to ensure that in the near future, any Canadian who can benefit from the medical use of cannabis can access it, regardless of income or socio-economic background.