It’s been just over four months since recreational cannabis dispensaries opened their doors in Canada. This has been a bittersweet victory for many cannabis activists and there are still many hurdles we must overcome in our quest for safe access and sensible drug policy. One sentiment I’ve heard from a few folks in the medical patient sphere is that, in the months since legalization, they’ve decided to let their ACMPR prescriptions lapse into expiry as they can now easily walk into a brick-and-mortar dispensary and purchase cannabis. Storefront transactions are easier for many people to accommodate into their daily lives, especially in the case of senior citizens who may be tech-shy about using their credit cards to make purchases online. That is to say, the ACMPR system is not without it’s own flaws, but there are still many reasons to keep your prescription renewed in this new post-prohibition era. Here are 6 of them:
1. Doctor’s Orders
While many physicians are still hesitant to prescribe cannabis due to a lack of education, there are cannabis-specific health clinics popping up in locations all over Canada with doctors that are passionate about the medical benefits of cannabis. These doctors keep up on new research and information in the cannabis sphere and can help interpret that research as it applies to the well-being of their patients. These clinics do not require a referral from your family physician, which is handy if your GP is still stuck in the reefer madness era.
Having access to a doctor’s opinion on what to expect as far as symptom relief and side-effects can assuage the worries and concerns of many new patients and ease their transition to medical cannabis. Your doctor can also inform you if cannabis might interact with any of the other medications you are currently taking, which is especially important in the case of blood pressure medication.
Consulting a knowledgeable physician regarding cannabis is also highly recommended if you intend to use it as a replacement for your current medications rather than simply adding it to your usual medication regime. Remember that some medications should never be quit “cold turkey” and your doctor can assist you in weaning off of these prescriptions.
2. Legal Loopholes
When it comes to your rights in terms of possession, number of plants you can grow, and landlord/tenant rights, you have more latitude and are better protected as a medical cannabis patient. For instance, while you are able to be in possession of 30 grams recreationally, as a medical patient you can carry 30 times your daily gram amount up to 150 grams. As a patient, you have access to both medicinal and recreational streams. Whatever you may purchase in a store is separate from your medicinal allotment… though you should make sure to have the proper documentation for both if carrying more than 30g.
In terms of growing at home, while most provinces now allow for 4 plants recreationally, a medicinal patient can apply for a license to grow many more than that (5 plants x daily gram amount for inside and 2 plants x daily gram amount outside). Your medical plant allotment is separate from your recreational plants. And, while many landlords and condo boards are explicitly banning the growth of cannabis in leases, rental agreements, etc., those who require medical cannabis have been winning the battle as their human right to safe and reasonable access to medication carries more legal weight than landlord/tenant legislation.
While in most places the smoking and vaping of cannabis is permitted in all of the same places as tobacco and e-cigarettes, many municipalities have decided to enforce public consumption bylaws that are far more strict than the existing provincial tobacco legislation. Many of these can be ignored if you have your ACMPR license. And if you live somewhere like Newfoundland that outright bans pubic cannabis consumption, you had better have your applicable paperwork and prescription bottles handy. (Update 23/03/2019: with the new changes to packaging regulations, you now require your notice of registration with your licensed producer AND your shipping receipts). While you obviously can’t light up a joint in the middle of the mall (yet), as a medical patient you have far more options about where you are able to medicate. Make sure you consult the laws in your specific municipality and province.
One other (highly debated) legal loophole that may come in handy is access to grey and black market sources of cannabis. Medical cannabis patients often face many limitations in the realms of income, housing, tech-literacy… I could go on. These limitations can make it unnecessarily difficult if not impossible for them to pay the exorbitant prices from some LPs or to make the minimum purchase requirements, to have medicine shipped to an address they do not have, or to feel comfortable entering their financial details online. Many medical patients also require specific strains, products like edibles, or extracts like phoenix tears that are not available on either the medical or recreational markets. In the case of extract production where the process can be quite volatile and produce some nasty fumes, patients often cannot reasonably make them on their own. In these cases it could be argued that 1) if a physician has deemed it necessary that a patient consume medical cannabis and the patient is not able to access a) the type of cannabis product they require at b) the price that they require, that they have no other option but to access different products or lower prices via the black or grey markets. These instances might be considered under the Principles of Fundamental Justice (Moral Involuntariness) under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms where a person may not be found guilty of a criminal offence where the person faces “perilous circumstances” and is “deprived of a realistic choice whether to break the law.” This, however, is a hypothetical and to my knowledge has not (yet) been used in a supreme court battle. (Please let me know using the contact form here if you have insight into this topic).
3. The Taxman
You can claim cannabis as a medical expense on your income tax, if purchased through your Licensed Producer. Simply print the receipts from your LP patient portal and add to other prescriptions. Receipts from recreational stores and less-than-legal retailers (like grey market dispensaries and gangsters in stairwells) do not qualify.
Some cannabis consumption necessities (like the Storz & Bickel Medic lineup of vaporizers) are also classified as medical devices and can be claimed as a health expense on your income tax.
The dollar a gram excise tax is currently being absorbed by many licensed producers. While this may not be sustainable in the long run, patients and LPs are busy lobbying the government to not tax medical cannabis.
Add your voice at CFAMM.ca #donttaxmedicine
4. Keep Your Job
Most employers frown upon using cannabis just before or during work hours, but if you need to medicate before or on your shift (as I often do to control the tics associated with my Tourette syndrome) this might present a very real threat to your employment. Many employers in Canada also require pre-employment and safety related drug testing.
Your doctor can provide a general letter to your employer that you are using cannabis for medical purposes. It could then reasonably argued if you are let go by your employer for using cannabis that they are acting in a manner that is discriminatory to people with disabilities.
5. Get It Covered
With employers’ authorization, some private health insurance providers are (albeit hesitantly) beginning to cover medicinal cannabis expenses for specific conditions. To date, some insurance companies are covering cannabis in cases of epilepsy, MS, and chemo induced nausea and vomiting (CINV) just to name a few. Health spending accounts can also potentially cover cannabis costs.
I have also heard whispers that due to Shopper’s Drug Mart’s distribution partnership with many LPs, that Loblaw’s employees are getting medical cannabis coverage up to $1,500 annually.
Check out this handy chart from Harvest Medicine on what insurers are covering what:
6. Get A Discount
Some licensed producers offer compassionate pricing to those with a yearly income under a certain amount. For instance, some LPs (like Tilray) will offer a percentage discount based on your level of income whereas others (Aurora) offer a reduced dollar per gram price. Other LPs like CannaFarms don’t offer compassionate pricing, but do offer products like shake to their patients at a very reasonable price (this is a great option if you make your own tinctures, salves, or edibles).
Many licensed producers also offer discounts to veterans, seniors and first responders. Ask your cannabis healthcare provider which LPs can offer this.
All that being said, everyone has a different reason for consuming cannabis and everyone has different needs when it comes to accessing and consuming their cannabis. Before you let your prescription expire, please consider these 6 reasons to hang on to that medical card.
This blog reflects the personal views of the author and is not intended as legal, financial, or medical advice. Consult cannabis laws in your area before purchasing, possessing, or consuming cannabis.