Statement on Legalization & Cannabis Act

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

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

TORONTO, April 13, 2017 – The Arthritis Society and Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) welcome the Federal government’ 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 in 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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Nova Scotia: Board Rules in Favour of Insurance Coverage for Medical Marijuana

Nova Scotia: Board Rules in Favour of Insurance Coverage

“This landmark human rights commission decision highlights the discrimination patients face when denied coverage for medical cannabis. Although the decision may not extend to all patients or plans, it has the potential to broaden the feasibility of medical cannabis coverage. Armed with this decision, patients will now have more evidence to help advocate for coverage.”

-Jonathan Zaid (Founder & Executive Director, CFAMM)

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Press Release: Task Force Report Statement (Dec 2016)

Medical cannabis patient groups pleased federal government Task Force recognizes distinct needs of patients

Task Force report agrees that patients need well-researched, regulated and affordable access to medical cannabis

OTTAWA, Ontario – December 13, 2016 – Three leading patient advocacy groups commend the federal government’s Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation for their recommendations related to patient access to cannabis for medical purposes announced today.

The groups are very pleased that the Task Force, chaired by the Hon. A. Anne McLellan, has considered their main concerns about the future of medical cannabis in an environment of legalized recreational use.
The groups’ key recommendations were that the government ensure that patients are able to safely and reliably access affordable medical cannabis in all its forms and potencies through various distribution channels. The groups also called on the government to expand funding for and incentivize medical cannabis research.

The Task Force heard many of the concerns voiced by patients and recognized their distinct needs when accessing cannabis for medical purposes. Patients’ voices were reflected in the Task Force’s recommendation that the current separate system of medical access to cannabis be maintained while the legal system for non-medical cannabis unfolds.

The Task Force highlighted the need for additional research to address patients’ barriers to access, support medical professionals and inform policy in this evolving area. We call on the government to immediately invest $25 million over five years to better understand the therapeutic effects of cannabis for symptom management associated with various medical conditions in the federal government’s 2017 budget. The federal government can begin to show leadership immediately through specific research investments, independent of the implementation of a legalization framework.

As with other medicines, patients must be able to access an affordable supply of medical cannabis. We are disappointed that the Task Force did not recommend that the federal government zero-rate medical cannabis as is done for other treatments for tax purposes. We urge the government to follow the Task Force’s guidance by actively monitoring affordability issues for patients and taking action as needed.

“We are very pleased with the recommendations of the Task Force regarding medical cannabis and urge the government to implement these recommendations as it drafts its legislation,” said Janet Yale, President and CEO of The Arthritis Society. “Many Canadians with arthritis rely on medical cannabis and it is crucial that we enhance our research investment in cannabis to help inform patient treatment and care.”

“The Task Force has listened to the concerns of patients that their needs for medical cannabis cannot simply be met by accessing their medicine in the same fashion as for recreational use,” said Jonathan Zaid, Founder and Executive Director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. “There continues to be pressing concerns for patients related to the current medical cannabis system, including critical concerns about affordability and retail access options. The government must continue to listen to patients’ voices as it develops legislation.”

“It is very important for Canadian patients to access cannabis for medical purposes through a process that meets their distinct needs and use requirements, which are different than those of non-medical users,” said Gary Lacasse, Executive Director, Canadian AIDS Society. “We are encouraged that the Task Force recommendations recognized patients’ experiences and recommended a variety of distribution options to access their cannabis treatment.”

Recommendations presented in August

The groups presented their recommendations on accessibility, affordability and support for research to the Task Force in August in their joint submission.

The three groups also hosted a roundtable session with a diverse group of patients and the Task Force in October at which patients gave first-hand accounts of their experiences, challenges and positive results from using medical cannabis.

At that session, patients spoke about the necessity of reliable access to different types of cannabis products in different, well-regulated doses depending on their specific need or health status, such as having ingestible forms when they are not able or willing to inhale cannabis smoke. They also described the affordability issues they faced due to lack of insurance coverage for medical cannabis and the burden of having to pay sales taxes, unlike prescription drugs. Medical cannabis costs can reach up to $500 a month for some patients and are a burden for many, even at much lower amounts.

The need for more research and more reliable information for both doctors and patients was also noted. Many patients have had difficulty finding a physician willing and able to prescribe them cannabis and lack information about forms and dosages. This means many patients have self-medicated with little or no guidance from their healthcare team to find the level and type of cannabis that gives them the most benefit, underscoring the need for much greater formal research.

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 $190 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.

About the Canadian AIDS Society
Incorporated since 1986, the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) is a national coalition of community-based AIDS organizations across Canada. CAS is dedicated to strengthening the response to HIV/AIDS across all sectors of society, and to enriching the lives of people and communities living with HIV/AIDS. For more information, please visit www.cdnaids.ca.

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Patient organization calls on medical cannabis industry to cease unethical pricing practices

November 22, 2016 – Waterloo, Ontario – On November 16, 2016, Vice News published an article, “Veteran Medical Marijuana Benefits Are Costing Canada a Fortune”, on the skyrocketing use and cost of medical cannabis among Canadian veterans. The article uncovered industry practices that artificially inflate pricing for veterans’ medical cannabis as well as unethical referral arrangements between veteran clinics and licensed producers.

Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) is deeply concerned about the impact of differential pricing for veterans and believes these practices hurts all medical cannabis patients, many of whom continue to struggle with affordability with few cost-coverage options available. We strongly denounce differential pricing based on cost-coverage status and urge both cannabis industry associations, the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council and Cannabis Canada, to enact policies prohibiting these practices.

When done so responsibly, cost-covering medical cannabis can be beneficial for both insurers and plan members. A 2013 survey published in Addiction Research and Therapy found that almost 70% of medical cannabis patients substitute medical cannabis for other prescription drugs, most often opioids. Replacing opioids with cannabis allows patients to limit the risk of addiction and lethal overdose while finding relief of their symptoms. This type of substitution effect is also seen on the Veterans Affairs plan, which has shown a reduction in opioid and benzodiazepine claims as the number of veterans claiming cannabis has increased.

CFAMM is committed to work with patients and insurers to demonstrate the benefits of covering cannabis. Many patients in our insurance education program have established cost-savings while on cannabis compared to their previous insured medications and therapies.

The practices that have occurred in the industry must not dictate the future of medical cannabis coverage. Industry associations should play a role by prohibiting the practice of differential pricing and invest more resources towards demonstrating the positive impact for insurers who cover medical cannabis.

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Patients who use cannabis for medical purposes speak to the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation

Experiences of medical cannabis patients provide the Task Force with the insight necessary to prioritize patients’ needs

CFAMM-Arthritis Society-AIDS Society Medical Cannabis Patient Meeting with Task Force on Legalization TORONTO, ON–(Marketwired – October 18, 2016) – Patients who use cannabis for medical purposes had the opportunity today to directly address the federal government’s Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation about their issues and concerns as the Task Force develops recommendations for the government’s planned major changes to Canadian laws about cannabis.

The full afternoon session in Toronto, hosted by leading Canadian patient advocacy groups The Arthritis Society, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana and the Canadian AIDS Society and long-time medical cannabis patient advocate Hilary Black, was co-chaired by the Task Force Chair, The Hon. A. Anne McLellan.

The patients participating in the afternoon session represent a wide diversity of Canadians who currently use cannabis for medical purposes. A key concern for patients is that with the legalization of cannabis for personal use, the government must ensure that the new legal framework responds to and prioritizes patients’ needs.

Patient issues and experience

During the session, patients told the Task Force of their experiences and challenges in accessing a regulated and affordable supply of medical cannabis and evidence-based information about this therapy, focusing on four main topics: access to sources, affordability, variety of products, and research and information needs.

Patients emphasized the importance of having access to a supply of medical cannabis in all its forms and potencies that is regulated for safety, potency and quality under a new regime that provides for a variety of distribution options, such as self-production, mail order and through pharmacies and retail outlets.

Medical cannabis costs are a significant financial strain for many patients, especially if they are on a fixed income. Patients spoke about affordability issues due to lack of access to insurance coverage for medical cannabis and the burden of having to pay sales taxes, unlike prescription drugs. Some patients shared how this financial burden forces them to choose between their medical cannabis and basic life necessities, such as groceries. Patients called on the Task Force to ensure access to affordable medicine is provided as part of legalization.

Patients described the need for more research and evidence-based information for both doctors and patients. Many face barriers in finding a physician that is well informed about the use of cannabis for medical purposes and in a position to integrate it into their patients’ treatment options.

“I’d like to thank The Arthritis Society, the Canadian AIDS Society and Canadians For Fair Access to Medical Marijuana for organizing today’s productive roundtable so the Task Force could hear directly from patients about their concerns regarding cannabis legalization,” said Anne McLellan, Chair of the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation. “The voices of patients are important to the Task Force, and are among many important views that we are considering as we develop our recommendations on legalizing and regulating access to cannabis.”

Patient group perspectives

“We are grateful that the Task Force has taken the time to hear the direct voices of Canadian patients on these important issues,” said Janet Yale, President and CEO of The Arthritis Society. “Medical cannabis already helps many Canadians manage arthritis pain but we need to ensure that we have robust clinical evidence on medical efficacy and the appropriate form and dosage for treatment.”

“As we heard at the roundtable meeting, Canadians who use medical cannabis have valuable insights and experiences to guide the development of the new laws and regulations,” said Jonathan Zaid, Founder and Executive Director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. “We are pleased the Task Force listened to the patients and hope that the insights they heard will play a strong role in guiding the development of their recommendations.”

“We believe that hearing directly from patients who use cannabis for medical purposes will give the Task Force a vital and very useful perspective as they complete their important work,” said Dr. Lynne Belle-Isle, National Programs Manager, Canadian AIDS Society. “In the discussions about legalization of cannabis for personal use, we must ensure that the needs of patients who benefit from the use of cannabis to ease their symptoms are considered and integrated into the new regulatory framework.”

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.

About the Canadian AIDS Society

Incorporated since 1986, the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) is a national coalition of community-based AIDS organizations across Canada. CAS is dedicated to strengthening the response to HIV/AIDS across all sectors of society, and to enriching the lives of people and communities living with HIV/AIDS. For more information, please visit www.cdnaids.ca.

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Leading patient advocacy groups give recommendations to federal government task force on rules for medical cannabis as it examines legalization for recreational use

Three key points for medical cannabis patients: Simple and safe access to quality product; affordability, enabling drug insurance and eliminating sales taxes; more research to define doses and understand best uses

TORONTO, Ontario – August 29, 2016 – Three leading Canadian patient advocacy groups, along with 14 signatories, today presented to the federal government’s Task Force on the Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana a brief highlighting the currently unmet needs of medical cannabis patients and how those needs should be addressed as part of the government’s commitment to legalize cannabis for personal use.

The brief makes specific recommendations under three broad categories: accessibility, affordability and research. It was prepared and presented by The Arthritis Society, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana and the Canadian AIDS Society and built on extensive collaboration between patients, the scientific and medical communities, and medical cannabis experts. The submission is also supported by a broad cross-section of stakeholder signatories.

The groups make seven specific recommendations under the three broad themes:

ACCESSIBILITY

  1. Patients must have access to a supply of medical cannabis in all its forms and potencies that is regulated for safety, potency and quality.
  2. Patients must have access to a reliable supply of medical cannabis through a variety of distribution options.
  3. Patients must be informed about how to access medical cannabis as well as safe and effective use of different forms of medical cannabis (e.g., concentrates, dried flowers, edibles, etc.).

AFFORDABILITY

  1. Medical cannabis is a medical necessity and its cost should not be subject to GST, HST or provincial sales tax.
  2. The regulatory approach to medical cannabis must enable health insurance plans, both public and private, to be able to reimburse for medical cannabis as they do now for prescription drugs.

SUPPORTED BY RESEARCH

  1. The federal government must actively expand the evidence base on the medical use of cannabis through enhanced support and promotion of medical cannabis research.
  2. The federal government must use additional policy levers at its disposal to help support and promote research into medical cannabis.

“We are pleased the federal government is examining its position on all uses of cannabis but it is vital that those who use it for medical purposes have a regulatory, pricing and taxation system similar to that for prescription drugs,” said Janet Yale, President and CEO of The Arthritis Society. “We know that medical cannabis is an effective therapy for thousands of Canadians with arthritis pain but we need to substantially expand the evidence base through enhanced investment in research.”

“The government must ensure that those who need cannabis for medical purposes are prioritized as we move into a legal regulatory system for recreational cannabis,” said Jonathan Zaid, Founder and Executive Director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. “Legal access to cannabis for legitimate medical purposes must be treated differently, with appropriate laws and regulations to enhance access, increase affordability and bolster research.”

“In the new regulated system, we must ensure that Canadians living with HIV/AIDS have access to a safe, reliable and affordable source of access to cannabis to manage a variety of symptoms,” said Gary Lacasse, Executive Director, Canadian AIDS Society. “Our own research has been looking at barriers to access and suggesting ways to address them. Continued health services research will be important, as we implement a new system, to assess how well it is meeting the needs of patients.”

The full text of the associations’ submission is available here: The Arthritis Society / CFAMM.

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 $190 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.

About the Canadian AIDS Society

Incorporated since 1986, the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) is a national coalition of community-based AIDS organizations across Canada. CAS is dedicated to strengthening the response to HIV/AIDS across all sectors of society, and to enriching the lives of people and communities living with HIV/AIDS. For more information, please visit www.cdnaids.ca

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