Leading patient advocacy groups applaud federal government’s recognition of medical cannabis within proposed legalization framework

April 13, 2017

Continuation of separate and accessible medical cannabis system is critical; leaves questions about affordability and commitment to research

The Arthritis Society   CFAMM

TORONTO, April 13, 2017 – The Arthritis Society and Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) welcome the Federal government’s decision to preserve the existing Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) within the new legislation for the legalization of cannabis in Canada announced in Parliament today.

This ensures that Canadians needing cannabis for medical purposes will be able to continue to obtain it, if they wish, through a separate, accessible, regulated system that is distinct from that for non-medical cannabis. However, other patient needs remain to be addressed in the negotiations with the provinces in the coming months.

Access to medical cannabis

Under the legislation, which is slated to take effect on or before July 1, 2018, the existing ACMPR infrastructure of Licensed Producers, physician guidance and government monitoring for medical cannabis will be retained. As the government heard from patient advocacy groups during last year’s consultation process, a separate system for medical cannabis is vital to ensure that the needs of Canadian patients continue to be met post-legalization.

“Continuing to provide patients with a separate system for medical cannabis is an important first step,” said Janet Yale, President and CEO of The Arthritis Society, “but that system still needs to be strengthened to better respond to patients’ needs, especially on affordability. There was also a missed opportunity for the government to address research funding for medical cannabis – especially in a week that saw Canada’s Fundamental Science Review table its report expressing the importance of scientific investment.”

Last year, together with the Canadian AIDS Society, the groups made recommendations to the federal government that included eliminating federal sales tax (known as goods and services tax in some provinces and harmonized sales tax in others) on medical cannabis, facilitating its coverage in insurance plans, and investing $25 million over five years to research evidence-based guidelines for its proper use.

Need for affordability

“Many Canadians rely on this medicine in order to maintain quality of life in the face of crippling conditions ranging from chronic pain to PTSD to epilepsy,” says Jonathan Zaid, Founder and Executive Director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM). “For a person who has to spend upwards of $500 a month on their medical cannabis, it’s bad enough that their health insurance won’t cover the cost, but having to pay sales tax on it – when virtually all other medical necessities are tax-exempt – is literally adding insult to injury.”

There is plenty of precedent for creating separate sales tax categories for related products, such as exemptions on sales tax for prescriptions and other medical necessities. With reasonable controls such as physician authorization, a separate system for medical cannabis can easily allow for a sales tax exemption for medical cannabis, with little risk of non-medical users exploiting the tax-free option. The system should further allow medical cannabis to be covered by health insurance plans – as are other drugs and medical necessities that cannabis use often replaces – helping ensure its affordability for patients who need it.

“If the government accepts the use of cannabis for medical purposes – and it must, based on this legislation,” says Zaid, “then it must also accept that it needs to be treated the same way as other medications, with the same protections built in for patients.”

Commitment to research

Research into medical cannabis is decades behind where it should be, and many physicians are reluctant to advise their patients on the use of medical cannabis due to the absence of clear, evidence-based guidelines. More knowledge is needed about how cannabis works as a medicine – from optimal doses and forms of delivery to other therapeutic aspects, contraindications and other considerations. This information can only come from investments in good research, which will provide physicians with practical information about how and when to prescribe cannabis, and develop reasonable expectations about its effectiveness.

“The Arthritis Society is doing our part to fill these knowledge gaps, having already committed $720,000 in research funding,” says Yale. "But we can't do it alone: we need a systemic commitment from the federal government to prioritize medical cannabis research. That starts with directing some of the revenues generated from taxes on non-medical cannabis to fund research into medical cannabis, and using additional policy levers to encourage more research. Canada has an opportunity not only to catch up, but to become a global leader in this important work.”

About The Arthritis Society

The Arthritis Society has been setting lives in motion for over 65 years. Dedicated to a vision of living well while creating a future without arthritis, The Society is Canada's principal health charity providing education, programs and support to the over 4.6 million Canadians living with arthritis. Since its founding in 1948, The Society has been the largest non‐government funder of arthritis research in Canada, investing over $195 million in projects that have led to breakthroughs in the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with arthritis. The Arthritis Society is accredited under Imagine Canada's Standards Program. For more information and to make a donation, visit www.arthritis.ca.  

About Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana

Founded in 2014, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) is a federal non-profit, patient-run organization dedicated to protecting and improving the rights of medical cannabis patients. CFAMM’s goal is to enable patients to obtain fair and safe access to medical cannabis with a special focus on affordability, including private and public insurance coverage. For more information, visit www.cfamm.ca.

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For further information, contact:
Douglas Emerson
Senior Manager, Communications and Health Promotion
The Arthritis Society
Tel: 416.979.7228 x3348
Cell: 647.706.0440
demerson@arthritis.ca

Jonathan Zaid
Founder & Executive Director
Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana
226-444-8139
jzaid@cfamm.ca