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. 


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.”