On April 13 the Canadian government introduced its proposed Cannabis Act to legalize marijuana, intended to come into effect July 2018. Based on recommendations of the Task Force for Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, the government proposes to keep in place the current medical access system set out in the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) – allowing patients authorized to use cannabis for medical purposes by their health care practitioner to buy it from licensed producers or grow their own. The Task Force also considered challenges of reasonable accommodation in the workplace and implications for occupational health and safety policies.
According to Health Canada statistics, at the end of 2016 almost 130,000 Canadians had registered to purchase medical marijuana. While legal access to medical marijuana was first provided in 1999, the present regulations were introduced in 2016 as a result of the Federal Court ruling in Allard v Canada . The Court found that Canadians have a constitutional right to reasonable access to a legal source of supply of marijuana for medical purposes, that a ban on home-grown marijuana violated a patient’s Charter right and ordered the federal government to make the drug more accessible and affordable.
In their response to the legalization proposals, advocacy group Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) welcomed the continuation of a separate and accessible medical cannabis system. However they also stressed the need for affordability and a commitment to research, acknowledging that many physicians are reluctant to advise their patients on the use of medical cannabis due to the absence of clear, evidence-based guidelines. Reluctant also to play the role of gatekeeper…
Compensation and cannabis
Coverage for medical marijuana by workers’ compensation boards varies across Canada. In Ontario the 2007 Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal decision 2335/06I granted an appeal on the issue of reimbursement for costs of medical marijuana, finding “the worker’s medicinal use of marijuana is recognized as an appropriate health care measure necessitated by injuries sustained in the compensable accident…” Entitlement decisions are made on a case by case basis, but WSIB authorization for medical marijuana is not supported for chronic non-cancer pain. As a result, injured workers with non-cancer pain must appeal to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal before there is a possibility of marijuana being accepted as an appropriate health care measure for their workplace injury or illness.
Elsewhere, in Alberta the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission ruled medical marijuana is included in the compensation board’s duty to pay for “any reasonable and necessary medical aid”; Quebec’s compensation board was ordered in 2005 by the Superior Court to pay for medical marijuana as it would any other prescribed drug; the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench in 2012 ruled the compensation board, rather than refuse to cover medical marijuana on grounds of it being contrary to Board policy, can pay for an injured worker’s medicinal marijuana and should consider each case on its merits. While medical marijuana is compensable in New Brunswick also on a merits basis, a 2016 Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal decision successfully challenged the Commission’s exclusion of psychological and psychiatric conditions. Nova Scotia’s workers compensation board covers it in very rare circumstances, and only in the synthetic pill form; while for injured workers in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island it is also currently unavailable through the workers’ compensation boards. South of the border, coverage is similarly divided – as of Mar 2017 six states call for reimbursement of medical marijuana costs under workers’ compensation, while a further six have specific laws in place denying the right to reimbursement.
Meanwhile debate continues over the roles of medical marijuana in the opioid crisis…
- Saint-Cyr, Yosie. 2017 Mar. 29. “WCB to Employers: You Need Policies Before Canada Legalizes Marijuana”. First Reference Talks
- Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. 2016 Jul. 4. Medical Marijuana Health Care Advice Document Update. Toronto: WSIB (FOI request by CFAMM)
- Health Canada. 2016 Aug. Understanding the New Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations
- Hauch, Valerie. 2012 Sep. 17. “Workers’ Comp Claim Seeks Medical Marijuana: For an Orillia Man and Others Living with Chronic Pain, WSIB pays for Addictive Painkillers but Often Balks at Doing so for Medical Marijuana”. Toronto Star