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British Columbia MPs join push to remove federal tax from prescribed cannabis

Three MPs have joined a patient advocacy group’s call to remove the federal tax from prescribed medical marijuana, saying the extra fee is unfair and prevents patients from accessing the medicine they need.

This week, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) were joined by Liberal, NDP and Conservative MPs calling for the change, saying in some provinces, the combination of federal, provincial and excise taxes can add up to more than an additional 25 per cent of the cost of medical marijuana.

“The Conservative message would be: consistency,” said Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, who joined the group along with Nathaniel Erskine-Smith of the Liberal party and Don Davies of the NDP. “People are getting prescriptions for medical marijuana and it should not be taxed.”

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Unlike prescription drugs, medical marijuana is subject to HST and isn’t covered by most insurance companies. The federal government has also introduced an excise tax of 10 per cent or $1 a gram, whichever is higher, on both recreational and medical cannabis, adding further costs to patients.

Currently those taxes apply to approximately 300,000 Canadians that use medical cannabis to treat a host of health issues ranging from arthritis, chronic pain and mental health.

CFAMM says price is a factor in whether or not patients are able to get the full marijuana dose they need and are prescribed.

“It’s presenting as a tax issue, but it’s 100 per cent a dosing issue,” says CFAMM president Gerald Major, who suffers from spinal arthritis, and 12 other medical conditions for which he uses marijuana. “Underdosing my cannabis means I have to take additional painkillers. Underdosing means my daughter notices that daddy’s in pain.”

In other parts of North America such as Oregon, Colorado and California, medical marijuana is not lumped together with recreational cannabis as it is in Canada. In those states, holders of medical marijuana designations are exempt from certain taxes.

Research from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), based in Washington, recommends allowing medicinal users to pay less tax than recreational users.

According to the ITEP, excise taxes are specifically used as a tool to offset its negative societal effects - issues that are less applicable to medical cannabis. That’s why they see “little rationale for applying a standalone excise tax to medical cannabis."

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Ottawa has justified the excise tax on all marijuana products as a financial deterrent to prevent recreational users from buying cheaper medical marijuana.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill Morneau said no changes are contemplated at the federal level .

Statistics Canada’s most recent countrywide cannabis survey found that 19 per cent of medical marijuana users reported purchasing from the black market. The survey found that after quality and safety, price was the next most important factor for cannabis users.

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