As of October 17, 2018, Canadians are legally able to access cannabis for recreational purposes – officially marking the end of a 95-year-old prohibition. So, what does this mean for medical patients? The introduction of a legal recreational market does not mean it will stand as a replacement for medical users, who have had access to medicinal cannabis since 2001.
Interesting Facts on the Cannabis Prohibition
- The Canadian government introduced the Act to Prohibit the Improper Use of Opium and Other Drugs in 1923 and added cannabis to the list of prohibited drugs, despite lack of scientific or health research to suggest harm.
- Cannabis use was rarely encountered in the mainstream population at the time.
- Some suggest Emily Murphy’s book ‘The Black Candle’, influenced the government’s decision with its anti-immigration and anti-drug ideologies.
- Others believe it had to do with Canada’s involvement in international discussions that called for regulation of cannabis on an international scale.
Fast forward 95 years, we see an increased familiarity and consumption of cannabis amongst the Canadian population, the federal government ruled to legalize the drug. With these changes in place, medical cannabis patients are likely considering whether they should remain on the medical side.
Medical vs Recreational Users
Medical patients require ongoing screening and assessments, and education on cannabis use that recreational users will not receive. The medical patient pathway allows patients to speak with their health care providers regarding issues on drug interactions, dosing, benefits if applicable, method of consumption and when to use medical cannabis. A health care provider will evaluate patients according to their medical conditions and overall health to assess if medical cannabis is right for them.
Unlike many conventional medications, medical cannabis comes in several strains and forms that patients can choose from. If medical users transition over to the recreational side, they are left to self-medicate and experiment before potentially finding a product best suited for their condition. The recreational market is not equipped with the support network and personalized patient care that medical patients require.
In addition, there are other benefits to remaining on the medical side.
|Medical cannabis and approved vaporizers can be claimed as a medical expense on an income tax return.||Recreational users cannot claim cannabis or approved vaporizers on their income tax.|
|Many Licensed Producers have absorbed excise taxes for their medical patients.||All sales and excise taxes must be paid.|
|Many Licensed Producers offer compassionate pricing to eligible patients as well as medical cannabis products that will remain cheaper.||Compassionate programs are not available, and products are typically more expensive.|
|Medical cannabis and vaporizer coverage is available through select insurance companies, employer-provided Health Spending Accounts, Veterans Affairs Canada and open Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) claims. Some disability programs offer coverage for medical vaporizers.||Recreational users are not eligible for any coverage.|
|Many Licensed Producers have deducted shipping costs or waived them completely.||Shipping costs vary on location. Some provinces, like Nova Scotia, sell recreational cannabis via brick and mortar stores. Other provinces, like Ontario, only sell products online.|
|Medical patients are permitted to carry on them the lesser of 1 months’ worth of their prescription or 150 grams, plus an additional 30 g of recreational cannabis.||Recreational users are always limited to 30 g of cannabis.|
As per Health Canada, the government is committed to maintaining a separate medical system to ensure that patients consuming medical cannabis continue to have access to legal and quality-controlled product. That is not to say that the landscape for the medical market has remained the same since the legalization of recreational cannabis.
Medical patients will now see:
- New excise taxes
- Increase in the possession limit; an additional 30 g of recreational cannabis is permitted on top of their medical limit
- Changes to the packaging and labelling of products
- Provincial regulations on consumption
- Elimination of a 30-day ordering window; patients are now able to order their full prescription at one time
Patients with medical cannabis authorizations will also be able to transfer their medical documents from one Licensed Producer to another without having to obtain a new medical document. Additionally, the expiration of a medical document will no longer be counted from the date signed by the healthcare provider the authorized cannabis, but rather from the day a patient registers with a Licensed Producer.
Since medical patients are seeking more than just the feeling of being high, they need to be under constant surveillance by a team of knowledgeable educators and health care providers. A dual system not only provides patients with the tools they need to achieve their end goal, but it also fuels clinical research on the therapeutic benefits of cannabis – a necessary component in helping to further build medical evidence on the use of cannabis.