Opening of adult-use market raising questions for medical cannabis patients

By James O’Hara, President and CEO of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM)

From October 17, 2018, patients will be able to connect with the newly created Office of Medical Access to easily transfer their documents between providers. This is a welcome change for many patients with complex needs, allowing for greater product choice and better customer service.

Cannabis has increasingly come into the national spotlight over the past few years, and the opening of the Canadian adult-use market on October 17, 2018, raises questions for patients using medical cannabis. How will the changes affect them? Will the new Cannabis Act impact their access to and use of cannabis?

Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), Canada’s patient-run medical cannabis advocacy organization founded by Jonathan Zaid in 2014, has been working hard on behalf of Canadian medical cannabis patients to ensure they have safe, affordable and reliable access to their medicine. 

Each province is responsible for adult-use distribution in its respective jurisdiction, yet medical cannabis access remains a federal program that is administered by Health Canada. What will be different is that the existing legislation will be integrated into the new Cannabis Act. 

While this won’t have a major effect on how patients access their medicine, it does mean that medical cannabis patients are required to adhere to all of the same rules as recreational users, unless otherwise exempted by the Act. Patients will still need to check with their province to find out where they are permitted to use cannabis in public. In the Province of Ontario, for instance, medical cannabis patients are permitted to consume cannabis in public, except where smoking is prohibited and subject to the rights of private property owners. In Manitoba, however, all cannabis use in public – whether for medical purposes or not – is currently prohibited.

While the new drug-impaired driving laws did not receive as much public scrutiny as the Cannabis Act itself, they carry potentially serious implications for CFAMM members. They impose severe penalties for cannabis-impaired driving, including the possibility of five-year jail terms for repeat severe violations. Creating new categories for cannabis-impaired drivers, these laws set per se limits on the amount of THC allowed in the blood at any given time. 

The problem for medical cannabis patients is that the range of enforced limits doesn’t correlate to actual impairment. Available science tells us that many of Canada’s 300,000 medical cannabis patients may frequently be over the upper limit of 5ng/THC/ml, even though they may not have consumed cannabis within the last 12 hours, much less over the lower limit of 2ng/THC/ml (according to the Canadian Association of Forensic Scientists, 2017). This is primarily because THC is processed differently in the body than alcohol and can remain in residual amounts long after any impairment has passed. 

CFAMM invites comments from patients across the country on how this regulatory change has affected them.

One advantage coming out of the new Cannabis Act is that patients will be able to take their medical document to any licensed producer of their choice, rather than having to provide a separate medical document from a physician to each producer. From October 17, 2018, patients will be able to connect with the newly created Office of Medical Access to easily transfer their documents between providers. This is a welcome change for many patients with complex needs, allowing for greater product choice and better customer service.

In 2017 and 2018, CFAMM has been especially vocal about the sin tax levied by the federal government. The introduction of excise taxes on medical cannabis by Finance Minister Bill Morneau makes cannabis currently the only medicine facing provincial and federal sales taxes. The stated purpose of the 10 per cent levy on oils and $1-per-gram tax on dry flower – which apply equally to medical and recreational cannabis – was to discourage people from applying to and making use of Canada’s existing medical cannabis system. Not only does this perspective dismiss the legitimate medical concerns of thousands of Canadians, it further penalizes existing patients, many of whom are chronically disabled and unable to afford the already high cost of cannabis. 

While we are excited about the opening of the Canadian adult-use market in October, CFAMM will continue to advocate on behalf of patients with both public and private insurance companies and fulfill its responsibility to educate Canadians on the concerns of medical cannabis patients as distinct from recreational users. It will be important, now more than ever, that the concerns of patients remain a priority for both government and industry. For many patients, their quality of life depends on it. 

Where does the Cannabis Act leave medical cannabis patients, who depend on affordable access? CFAMM president and CEO James O’Hara, a patient himself, aims to ensure the rights of patients are heard at all government levels.  SUPPLIED

Where does the Cannabis Act leave medical cannabis patients, who depend on affordable access? CFAMM president and CEO James O’Hara, a patient himself, aims to ensure the rights of patients are heard at all government levels. SUPPLIED