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Impact of Cannabis Legalization for Patients

Impact of Cannabis Legalization for Patient

  • Will Legalization Affect Medical Cannabis?

    Effective July 2018, recreational cannabis is legal in Canada. But what does this mean for you, the medical cannabis patient? While regulations in this area are still being developed in some jurisdictions, Canada’s federal and provincial governments have already begun to roll out extensive new rules and restrictions for the sale, distribution and consumption of cannabis, and some of those rules will affect medical cannabis users as well.

  • ACMPR rules still apply

    The short version is: if you’re already using medical cannabis from a licensed producer under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), most of that remains unchanged. You still require a medical document signed by a physician, and you still access your supply by mail-order from one of Canada’s Licensed Producers. You can also still grow a modest quantity of plants at home for your personal use, provided you have permission in advance from Health Canada.

    Some rules, however, are changing, and it’s important to understand them – and how your rights around cannabis are different from those of recreational users.

  • Do I still need to be registered as a patient?

    It is now possible for patients to legally obtain cannabis outside of the medical cannabis process. However, the rules will be different for recreational use versus medical use. Your rights as a patient are only protected as long as you are obtaining your supply through the government-mandated ACMPR process. That includes your rights to possess and carry, where and how you can use your medication, and in some cases may even impact what product you can obtain and how much you pay for it. For those reasons, we strongly encourage people who require cannabis for medical purposes to follow the ACMPR process.

  • Possession

    Recreational cannabis users can only carry up to 30 grams of cannabis per person in public. As a medical cannabis user, you will still be allowed to carry a 30-day supply of your prescription, for example if your monthly allotment is 60 grams, you will be allowed to carry that much at a time.

  • Where cannabis can be used

    Depending on where you live, the rules for recreational cannabis use in public vary. In some jurisdictions (such as Alberta’s proposed regulations), the only restrictions are that you are not permitted to consume near hospitals, schools or childcare facilities. In other provinces, such as Ontario, consumption may be banned from anywhere outside of your private residence. In shared buildings such as apartments and condominiums, you may not even be able to use recreational product in your own residence.

    Medical cannabis rules are different: your legal rights allow you to smoke or vaporize your medicine in public, as long as you do so in a space that is also designated for public tobacco use.

    It’s worth noting that oils and edibles are allowed anywhere, as long as they are for medical purposes. It’s also worth noting that the Arthritis Society does NOT endorse smoking of any product, for any reason, as smoking poses known risks to overall health.

  • Proof to carry

    When you have your medical cannabis in public, always keep a form of legal proof with you, such as your Health Canada-issued registration certificate, the product label from your LP-purchased medicine or the Confirmation of Registration document you received upon registering. This lets you fully prove that your cannabis was lawfully obtained under the direction of a physician.

  • Getting behind the wheel

    With the arrival of legalization, provinces are paying more attention to cannabis and impaired driving. What constitutes a “safe” or “legal” amount of THC in the system will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, however it is generally thought that at least four hours should pass after inhaling cannabis with THC before choosing to drive – and potentially longer depending on the individual and the amount of THC, or if the individual feels a euphoria or “high”. Drivers who are found to be impaired by cannabis may be subject to similar penalties as those impaired by alcohol. Refer to your physician for additional guidance.

    If you are using any form of medical cannabis, always pay attention to your usage, understand its impact on your judgement, response time and ability to function clearly, and avoid getting behind the wheel if there’s any possibility of your ability to drive safely being compromised. (The same is true of any other prescription or over-the-counter medication that can also cause impairment, such as muscle relaxants, cough and cold medications or nausea medications.) By using medical cannabis in a safe and conscious way, you are protecting your life as well as the lives of those around you!

    Also, ensure you have your proof to carry with you whenever you are operating a vehicle, even if you do not have your medication with you, in the event you are asked to take a roadside test. Police may require you to take a Standard Field Sobriety Test, the start of a 12-step process for evaluating someone for cannabis impairment. They may confiscate any medication in your car or on your person as a result of a failed roadside test pending further investigation, in addition to any other consequences of a potential impaired driving charge.

  • Cannabis at work

    Some employers are concerned about the potential abuse of recreational cannabis on the job, and are amending their substance management policies to restrict its use. However, medical use remains legally protected for all employees, in accordance with federal and provincial policies on using prescription medications in the workplace. There are exceptions for occupations considered “safety sensitive”, such as driving or operating machinery, but in general employers have a duty to accommodate their employees’ rights to lawfully medicate without discrimination.

    Registering or continuing as a medical patient is essential when you need to medicate outside of your home. Having a physician-approved authorization will give you more protection when it comes to medicating in public or arranging for cannabis use during work hours, and will help distinguish your use as medically necessary.

  • Cost

    The federal government is introducing a new 10% excise or “sin” tax applied to both recreational and medical cannabis. While the Arthritis Society and others in the medical cannabis community in Canada are strongly opposed to taxing medical cannabis, medical users nevertheless need to be prepared to see a 10% increase in the cost of their supply.

    Based on average dosage*, the average patient can expect to spend more than $1,875 per year on tax, including both sales and excise taxes. (*Health Canada published average dose of (2.3 g/day) and average market pricing ($8.50/g).)

    It’s worth noting that CBD oils (under 0.3% THC) are not subject to this excise tax. In addition, the government is examining options for establishing a rebate program to retroactively reimburse Canadians using medical cannabis.

    During tax season, patients who purchase their cannabis from a Licensed Producer through a medical document from a physician can claim those purchases as a medical expense. This can be helpful, as medical cannabis costs are not currently covered by public drug plans, and are also not covered by most third-party health insurance plans. (It is expected that private coverage for certain health conditions may become more available in the coming years, but only if under the care of a physician.)