Budget 2018: What it means for medical cannabis

Background

In November 2017, the federal government announced a proposal to apply an excise/sin tax to both non-medical and medical cannabis after legalization. The excise tax is proposed to be applied at the rate of $1/gram or 10% of the product price (whichever is greater of the two) in addition to the pre-existing GST/HST sales tax.

On February 27th, the federal government further solidified their plan in their 2018 budget (see pg. 177). Although lots of details are still uncertain, we broke down what the latest announcement potentially means for patients. We know many are disappointed with this news and will continue strongly advocating for the elimination of tax.

Announcement Highlights  

  • The proposed excise tax framework will generally apply to cannabis products that contain THC
  • Low-THC, CBD oils (under 0.3% THC) will not be subject to the excise tax
  • Pharmaceutical products on prescription (with a DIN) and derived from cannabis will be exempt.
    • This refers to prescription cannabis-based medicines like Sativex (which currently are zero-rated/exempt from tax anyway).
  • Work will be undertaken by Health Canada to evaluate the drug review and approval process so that Canadians in need have better access to an array of medicinal options.
  • The Government will also examine options for establishing a rebate program to retroactively reimburse Canadians an amount in recognition of the federal portion of the proposed excise duty that was imposed on equivalent products prior to them being given a Drug Identification Number.
    • It is currently unclear what this means for patients and how it would be applied. We are working to get further details. 
  • Sales tax (GST/HST) will continue to apply

This is not yet implemented and may still change. The government has stated they intend to bring these changes into effect upon the implementation of non-medical cannabis legalization. 

Full details can be found in Budget 2018 (pg. 177) and in Tax Measures: Supplementary Information (pg. 40).

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Budget 2018 Response

PATIENTS OUTRAGED TO SEE MEDICINE TAXED IN FEDERAL BUDGET

TORONTO – Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) expressed outrage on behalf of patients across Canada after learning the federal budget would apply a sin tax to medical cannabis.

CFAMM has been campaigning against the government’s misguided plan to tax medical and recreational cannabis at the same rate since the government first floated the idea in a discussion paper from the Minister of Finance.

“We have heard from tens of thousands of patients across the country” said Jonathan Zaid, Executive Director of Canadians for Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) “This new tax adds insult to injury for a community of patients already struggling to afford their medicine.”

Medical cannabis patients rarely have the cost of their medicine covered by insurance and it is also the only medicine to which a sales tax is applied. A recent Environics poll found that a majority of Canadians (62%) are opposed to taxing medical cannabis. And to date, over 16,000 Canadians and a group of 12 non-profits have advocated for the elimination of it. Despite this fierce opposition, the federal government decided to forge ahead, implementing the new tax in its federal budget today.

The government will exempt some products such as non-THC and low-THC medicine from the excise tax but those products represent a small minority of those used by patients. “It’s quite clear that Canadians understand that taxing medical cannabis is unfair and wrong,” said Jonathan Zaid. “Exempting a small minority of patients does not address the affordability issue and implies some patients are more legitimate than others. Looking into a reimbursement program implies patients can afford to pay for their medicine in the first instance. They can’t”.

Despite disappointment with the approach to taxation, CFAMM was pleased to see that Health Canada will evaluate the drug review and approval process to ensure it keeps up with cannabis developments but urged the government to commit to meaningful timelines and invest urgently in medical cannabis research to ultimately work towards the full zero-rating of medical cannabis.

Media interview requests here

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Poll: Majority of Canadians Opposed to Taxing Medical Cannabis

TORONTO – A majority of Canadians are opposed to taxing medical cannabis, a new Environics poll has found.

According to the poll conducted in January of 2018, Canadian public opinion on medical cannabis is largely favourable, with nearly eight in ten Canadians supporting cannabis use for medical purposes (78% somewhat or strongly support), and six in ten preferring to see medical cannabis treated like all other prescriptions, and not be subject to tax (62% somewhat or strongly support).

The poll was jointly commissioned by Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), a national non-profit organization that represents medical cannabis patients, and   the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council (CMCC), an organization which represents stakeholders committed to advancing the highest standards of integrity and safety in Canada’s medical cannabis industry. It found that only two in ten support the government’s new taxation model as it is proposed.

“It’s quite clear that Canadians understand that taxing medical cannabis is unfair and wrong,” said Jonathan Zaid, Executive Director of Canadians for Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM).

“Taxes placed on medical cannabis create further financial barriers to treatment and discourage Canadians from accessing the legal and regulated system.”

To date, over 16,000 Canadians and a group of 12 non-profits have advocated for the elimination of tax on medical cannabis, though Finance Minister Morneau has not made any commitment to drop the proposal.

“The only fair decision the government can make is to treat medical cannabis like every other prescription and accordingly exempt it from tax,” said Zaid.

A total of 1,514 adults 18yrs+ from across Canada were interviewed using an online methodology during the period: January 5 – 7, 2018.

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 Medical Cannabis Council

The Canadian Medical Cannabis Council (CMCC) represents stakeholders who are committed to advancing the highest standards of integrity, safety, quality, access, security and research within Canada’s medical cannabis industry.

Media interview request (click here)

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UBC Okanagan Coverage Pilot

Medical Cannabis Insurance Coverage Pilot Announced for UBC Okanagan Students
Non-profit organizations lead advocacy efforts aimed at the responsible inclusion of medical cannabis in student health benefit plans

 Kelowna, British Columbia – February 21, 2018 – Two national non-profit organizations, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) and Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP), are pleased to endorse the UBC Students’ Union Okanagan (UBCSUO) motion to implement a novel pilot project to insure the costs of medical cannabis through students’ health benefits plan. This groundbreaking announcement also marks the launch of a new partnership between CFAMM and CSSDP that will seek to implement similar pilots in universities and colleges across Canada. 

Background

With the introduction of the program in 2018, UBC Okanagan becomes the second university in Canada to offer a compassionate, progressive, and research-backed approach for covering the costs of medical cannabis. After two years of discussions with UBCSUO, a motion was put forward and passed in December 2017 to implement a one-year pilot project to cover and study the costs of legally authorized medical cannabis. The pilot project will assess eligibility for coverage based on clinical criteria and there is a proposed plan in the works to back it with a research framework that will study the health and financial outcomes of covering medical cannabis. The proposed research framework will be designed and led by Dr. Zach Walsh, Associate Professor of Psychology at UBC Okanagan, who has extensive experience evaluating patient access to medical cannabis.

The details are still being worked out, however, an application process will be instated, and students enrolled in the legal medical cannabis program (ACMPR) will submit documentation to a third-party who will assess their eligibility for coverage. Severe conditions such as chronic pain and nausea from chemotherapy will take priority, however, depending on program uptake, students with less severe conditions will be offered support. As with other approved medications, a 20% co-pay for participating students will be implemented to ensure the program is not misused.

CFAMM-CSSDP Partnership

CFAMM and CSSDP have been working together for the past two years to support students’ advocacy efforts in this area. The successful adoption of the pilot at UBC Okanagan also marks the launch of a formal partnership for 2018 that will seek to implement pilot projects for universities and colleges across Canada. The partnership will be overseen by CFAMM, which has a special focus on medical cannabis coverage, and led on the ground through CSSDP’s grassroots networks.

“Students who are using medical cannabis to treat their conditions are left covering 100% of the costs while still paying into the student health insurance plan and may be incentivized to use medications that have less desirable side effect profiles, such as opioids and benzodiazepines, because of cost savings,” said Michelle Thiessen, the CSSDP UBC Okanagan Chapter Chair and a graduate student in Dr. Walsh’s Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use Lab, who spearheaded the efforts.

“UBC Okanagan Student Union’s announcement marks the beginning of a new era, where progressive benefits plans see the positive value in insuring medical cannabis,” said Jonathan Zaid, the Executive Director of CFAMM and among the first Canadians to successfully advocate for medical cannabis insurance coverage. “CFAMM’s partnership with CSSDP will further empower students to advocate for medical cannabis insurance coverage as part of responsible research-based pilot projects.”

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Patient Groups Unite to Oppose New Government Tax on Medicine

12 national not-for-profits representing AIDS, spondylitis, arthritis, hospice, cardiac, crohn’s and colitis, gastrointestinal, Huntington’s, skin cancer and spondylitis patients among others, as well as pharmacists, united to oppose the Finance Minister’s plan to tax medical cannabis.

OTTAWA – Today, united in fierce opposition to the federal Finance Minister’s misguided proposal to apply a sin tax to medical cannabis, 12 national health-focused non-profits and charities including the Canadian AIDS Society, the Arthritis Society, and Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana jointly submitted a response to the government’s consultation process repudiating its recommendations on behalf of their members.

In summary their submission stated: “the government’s proposal to extend the excise duty framework to cannabis for medical purposes places an inappropriate, unfair burden on patients”. It urged the government to “reconsider this plan as it moves forward with its proposed cannabis taxation regime (including both excise and sales taxes)”.

It went on to point to the financial hardships faced by medical cannabis patients, some of whom pay upwards of $500 per month for their or their family member’s medicine. The group ultimately recommended that cannabis for medical purposes be zero-rated and exempt from excise and sales taxes. While the groups were shocked by the government’s initial recommendation, they remain hopeful that the Minister of Finance will listen to patients.

Grassroots support for the advocacy efforts of these organizations has manifested itself on CFAMM’s campaign website where over 14,000 patients have spoken up, sending messages to their Members of Parliament. Patients across the country have embraced the campaign hashtag. Their thoughts can be found on Twitter at #DontTaxMedicine

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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#DontTaxMedicine Campaign Hits 12,000 Letters

Medical cannabis patient campaign fighting a new tax on medical cannabis and targeting Canada’s Minister of Finance far surpasses outreach goal

WATERLOO – Today the Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM)’s Don’t Tax Medicine campaign hit an impressive milestone with over 12,000 patients sending personal messages to their Members of Parliament.

Canada’s medical cannabis patients are asking their representatives to support the removal of all taxes from medical cannabis and support a tax structure equal to other medications by exempting medical cannabis from GST/HST and dropping the proposed excise tax.

CFAMM founder and medical cannabis patient Jonathan Zaid was impressed with the strength of the grassroots patient movement but not surprised.

“The use of medical cannabis should be recognized in line with all other prescription medications and accordingly exempt from taxation” said Zaid. “Patients have a fundamental right to have access to affordable medicine.”

CFAMM’s campaign came together when patients learned the government was recommending medical and recreational cannabis be taxed at the same rate. Outraged and disappointed, patients (many of whom struggle to afford their treatment today), organized through CFAMM to take their message to Parliament Hill.

“We heard from patients in every province across the country, many angry, some just devastated to learn that their medical treatment would be made even less affordable by the Minister of Finance” said Zaid. “Patients and their family members can’t understand why a sin tax reserved for alcohol and cigarettes is being applied to their medicine”.

CFAMM anticipates the level of grassroots engagement will continue to rise rapidly as word spreads about the government’s ill-advised recommendations. The organization plans to help patients connect personally with their representatives before the holidays, telling their stories and advocating against this discriminatory approach.

CFAMM’s campaign website features a number of different calls to action and encourages patients to send their own original messages to their Members of Parliament. Patients across the country have embraced the campaign hashtag. Their thoughts can be found on Twitter at #DontTaxMedicine

Contact

Media requests can be made here.

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