Arthritis Society looks out for patient rights amid cannabis legalization

May 1, 2017

One of the biggest mainstream news stories in Canada this year has been the federal government’s plans to legalize non-medical cannabis. The announcement came out last month, and there’s some good news for people with arthritis: the government plans to preserve its current, separate regulations and processes for people who use cannabis for medical purposes (called the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, or ACMPR).

Why does this matter? As many as two thirds of people currently relying on medical cannabis are doing so to manage arthritis symptoms. They need to know that they can obtain it, if they choose, through a separate, accessible, regulated system that is distinct from that for non-medical cannabis. This ensures a reliable and consistent supply of medication to help them manage their symptoms – one that engages their physician to incorporate medical cannabis within their overall treatment plan.

That’s why The Arthritis Society, in partnership with other patient advocacy groups, continues to be a leading voice in advocating to keep patient rights front-and-centre of the government’s legalization plan. We’re pleased and gratified that the announced framework will preserve the separate system for patients that is distinct from the mechanisms for non-medical cannabis. However, other patient needs remain to be addressed in the negotiations with the provinces in the coming months.

“Continuing to provide patients with a separate system for medical cannabis is an important first step,” says 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 the same week that Canada’s Fundamental Science Review tabled its report expressing the importance of scientific investment.”

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.

“With the support of our donors, 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.”