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What You Need to Know About Medical Marijuana

What You Need to Know About Medical Marijuana

20th October 2017


From March 2016 to March 2017, there was an increase of more than 310% in the total number of Canadians registered for access to medical marijuana. As the landscape surrounding it continues to change, we recognize the increased concerns regarding how medical marijuana will affect the medical insurance industry and maintenance of a safe and productive workplace. The following information addresses some common concerns surrounding these issues.

The current status of medical marijuana

Marijuana has not been issued a Drug Identification Number (DIN) and has not received a notice of compliance by Health Canada. Health Canada’s official position states that “Cannabis is not an approved therapeutic drug in Canada. At present, while pointing to some potential therapeutic benefits, the scientific evidence does not establish the safety and the efficacy of cannabis, to the extent required by the Food and Drug Regulations for marketed drugs in Canada.”

Pricing controls and dosage guidelines

Because Health Canada does not provide pricing oversight, licensed producers set their own prices.
Because dosing is highly variable, dosage amounts are determined on a case by case basis. Health Canada states that “there is no scientifically defined dose of cannabis for any specific medical condition…current available information suggests most individuals use less than 3 grams daily.”

Cost considerations

Making medical marijuana a part of the core benefit plan is not yet common enough to draw speculative data. However, one example of an organization that has offered it is Veteran Affairs Canada (VAC). From April 1, 2013 to December 31, 2015, VAC found that the actual utilization of the plan accounted for one-third of the total drug costs, significantly exceeding initial estimates. This example illustrates one outcome of costs. However, it is not representative of a typical plan given a considerable number of authorizations were for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs).

Coverage options

According to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) guidelines, medical marijuana qualifies as a medical expense and thus, some benefit carriers will facilitate coverage through a Health Spending Account (HSA).
Some, but not all carriers, will accommodate this method of submitting a claim for medical marijuana. Employees should check with their insurance provider before submitting claims through a Health Spending Account for medical marijuana.

Workplace accommodations

Federal and human rights legislation requires that employers must manage workplace accommodations for disabled employees until the point of undue hardship. Accommodations for employees that have been medically authorized to use medical marijuana should be similarly managed. However, the nature of marijuana means the employer must attempt to determine how medical marijuana usage might impact an employee’s ability to carry out their assigned duties safely and successfully.
Different workplace environments will have varying considerations. For instance, in an office environment, an employee that has a challenging time concentrating on their work could be provided more frequent rest periods and a flexible schedule.
On construction sites, however, a worker would be difficult to accommodate given the zero-tolerance policies for drug and alcohol.

Impairment in the workplace

As noted above (under “dosage guidelines”), it is difficult to measure dosages and therefore the level of impairment of an employee, particularly as individuals will have varying levels of tolerance. Presently, there are no clear parameters in place to evaluate impairment.

Employee confidentiality

According to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, “an employee has the right to refuse to disclose medical information such as the diagnosis of their disability.” However, in cases where the employee requires accommodation, an employer can request information from their doctor that confirms what accommodation is needed and that they are fit for work.

Please feel free to connect with us if you have any questions.