Costs and status update urged for medical marijuana

by Leo Almazora21 Oct 2016
Speaking with four members of the federal government’s legalization task force, 15 patients from across Canada have asked that medical marijuana be made more affordable. According to a report on the Globe and Mail, the patients shared how the substance has helped them deal with a variety of conditions, while also citing its prohibitive cost as a cause of financial hardship.

The dialogue happened at an event sponsored by the Arthritis Society, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana and the Canadian AIDS Society. Event facilitator Hillary Black, founder of Vancouver’s oldest dispensary and current director of patient services at the licensed commercial grower Bedrocan, reported participants coming from a variety of backgrounds, including a police officer, a veteran, and a mother of an epilepsy patient.

It was the first time the federal government’s nine-member task force, headed by former justice minister Anne MacLellan, spoke directly with users of medical marijuana. Previously, they had spoken only with youth and experts from relevant fields such as health care, substance abuse, and the legal and illegal production of cannabis.

To curtail costs, the patients want Ottawa to cut the sales tax on medical marijuana, as well as declare it a medicine to make insurers more willing to cover its use. However, under existing policy, Health Canada has to give any drug to be released for marketing a unique number, which should identify its manufacturer, product name, active ingredients, strength, pharmaceutical form and route of administration.

“I don’t think it’s realistic for a herb that has many active ingredients in it to be able to check the boxes of getting a drug identification number,” Black said. “We’re recommending that they give cannabis its own directorate and find a way to give it its own approval status.”

At the moment, health insurers cover medical marijuana use only for veterans, some first responders, and a few private citizens. Among those private citizens is Jonathan Zaid, head of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, who made headlines last year when Sun Life agreed to cover his medical cannabis use. The decision has enabled him to procure legal marijuana for $150 to $200 a month – much less than the estimated $800 he used to pay.

“Very few patients are able to afford their medicine,” said Zaid. “It’s not the most inexpensive medication [now], but lots of the other medications I was on before [cost] just as much money.”

In the summer, Health Canada tweaked its medical marijuana system to allow for personal production. The new regime allows patients who consume a gram a day – the average prescribed dose, according to the regulator – to grow two plants outdoors or five indoors (yields differ based on the plant’s environment). Licensed producers, however, will continue to be the sole legal source of seeds and plants.

The organizers of the meeting say they want patients to be able to buy their medicine via mail and directly through pharmacies or dispensaries. Black and Zaid said marijuana patients want any new system governing medical and recreational sales to give them reliable access to the substance.

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