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Patient And Health Groups Call Out “Unfair” Federal Plan To Tax Medical Cannabis

Decision to apply excise tax to medical cannabis adds insult to injury for Canadians living in pain

TORONTO, May 9, 2018 – The Arthritis Society today led a coalition of patient groups in calling out the federal government for moving forward with its plan to apply an excise tax to cannabis used for medical purposes.

In an open letter to the House Standing Committee on Finance (FINA), which is currently reviewing Bill C-74, the groups highlighted the government’s excise tax plans as placing an inappropriate and unfair burden on patients.

The groups offer their strong recommendation that cannabis for medical purposes, obtained pursuant to the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) and Cannabis Act, be zero-rated and exempt from excise and sales taxes, in all its forms and potencies.

An additional financial burden on patients

The costs associated with the use of cannabis for medical purposes can be extremely burdensome for patients, many of whom are on fixed incomes. These expenses, sometimes upwards of $500/month, are often in addition to other health expenses borne by patients, forcing many to make excruciating decisions about their health. Patients report having to choose between their needed medication and other necessities such as food or rent, and are switching to less effective medications – sometimes with severe side effects.

Applying excise tax to medical cannabis will, for many patients, take the affordability issue from challenge to crisis.

Inappropriate policy tool

The government’s stated (but unsubstantiated) rationale for applying an excise tax to medical cannabis is to dissuade recreational/non-medical users from taking advantage of cheaper medical cannabis in the post-legalization regime. This demonstrates a lack of awareness of just how difficult it is for Canadians to access medical cannabis under the ACMPR, and implies a complicity on the part of physicians to deceive the system.

The government should use more appropriate and proportionate policy instruments such as improved prescription oversight and enhanced data monitoring to address its concerns without penalizing all patients for the potential actions of a few non-patients.

Ongoing inequities

The Canadian approach to medical cannabis presents an ongoing contradiction: cannabis for medical purposes is authorized by healthcare practitioners as a medicine, yet not treated like one. Other prescription drugs and medical necessities are tax exempt, yet patients using medical cannabis are already required to pay sales tax on their needed medication, and will soon be asked to pay an excise tax as well, even though prescription drugs and medical necessities are zero-rated under the Excise Tax Act.

While certain products – such as low THC cannabidiol oils and pharmaceutical products derived from cannabis that have received a Drug Identification Number (DIN) – will be exempt under the proposed framework, patients that use cannabis in other forms and potencies are unfairly discriminated against.

Both the Tax Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal have taken note of the contradiction, stating that applying sales tax to cannabis for medical purposes creates “uncertainty and confusion”, and that “this area of legislation needs work”. The government’s proposal to impose an excise tax on cannabis for medical purposes simply adds to this confusion and uncertainty.

The coalition includes:

  • Arthritis Society
  • Canadian AIDS Society
  • Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance
  • Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association
  • Canadian Nurses Association
  • Canadian Pharmacists Association
  • Canadian Spondylitis Association
  • Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana
  • Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada
  • Gastrointestinal Society
  • Huntington Society of Canada
  • Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

Janet Yale, president and CEO, Arthritis Society:

In any consideration of cannabis legalization, it is vital that the government put the needs of Canadian patients first. It is time to treat this like any other medication, and remove all taxation from cannabis used for medical purposes.

 

About The Arthritis Society

The Arthritis Society is a national health charity, fueled by donors and volunteers, with a vision to live in a world where people are free from the devastating effects that arthritis has on lives. Begun in 1948 with one very clear goal – to alleviate the suffering of people crippled by arthritis – that same volunteer-led passion carries on today in communities across Canada. Through the trust and support of our donors and sponsors, the Arthritis Society is Canada’s largest charitable source of investments in cutting-edge arthritis research, proactive advocacy and innovative solutions that will deliver better health outcomes for people affected by arthritis. The Arthritis Society is accredited under Imagine Canada’s Standards Program.  For more information and to make a donation, visit arthritis.ca.

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For further information, please contact:

Alicia D’Aguiar
Communications specialist
Arthritis Society
1-800-321-1433 x3354
adaguiar@arthritis.ca

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