Ashleigh Brown is the founder of SheCann, a group for Canadian women to share their journeys with medical cannabis.
Three months after my youngest daughter was born, I experienced a tonic-clonic seizure for the first time. When I woke up in the hospital, I had no way of knowing just how dramatically my life would change. Before long I was experiencing 150 to 180 seizures a month. I lost my job, my home, my ability to care for my children, and eventually my relationship.
It would take seven years before I found relief. In 2016, my physicians and I were at a loss. All traditional treatments had failed. My world had become so small, so lonely. That is when a friend brought me some of her CBD oil. What did I have to lose by trying, I thought.
I experienced the first seizure-free day I had in ages. I couldn’t believe it – I felt a spark of hope I had been worried was gone forever.
Medical cannabis has fundamentally changed my life, when no other conventional treatment could. It has allowed me to go back to work, take care of my children, volunteer in my community and, in general, be myself again.
I have a complicated medical condition, and my health care team is integral to my overall success. Managing the symptoms of my condition has taken a lot of support from a team of health care professionals, who help me navigate the right balance of cannabis oils, conventional medications and lifestyle changes.
So it was with mixed emotions that I watched Canada legalize cannabis for adult recreational use on Oct. 17. On one hand, I am incredibly proud of Canada for taking a lead on this issue worldwide. There is no doubt that this step has done more than we can begin to measure to address the stigma surrounding cannabis use in general.
As one of 300,000 patients across Canada who has been prescribed cannabis by my physician for a medical condition, however, I was angry to learn that my medication would now be taxed not once, but twice. An unintended consequence of a well-intentioned plan has become a matter of simple unfairness.
Medical cannabis is already subject to sales tax, which for me, as a resident of Manitoba, means 5 per cent in GST and 8 per cent in PST. On top of that, it is rarely covered by private drug-benefit plans or government assistance. And now, as part of the Cannabis Act, all cannabis, whether prescribed by a physician or not, is subject to an additional 10-per-cent excise tax.
It all adds up. For a medical cannabis patient spending $200 a month or $2,400 annually on CBD oil, for example, the tax equates to an additional $240 in out-of-pocket expenses. Physicians and patients are justly concerned that this will render the drug less affordable, pricing access beyond the reach of vulnerable or low-income patients.
Medical cannabis should not be taxed like a recreational product because it is not a recreational product. It is a medicine used to treat serious conditions and must be authorized by a physician. What’s more, the Cannabis Act explicitly identifies and protects two distinct streams of cannabis – medical and adult-use – and guarantees this separation for at least five years.
The federal government showed tremendous leadership when it followed the evidence in legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use. But an unintended consequence of its policy was to compound the unfair financial burden medical-cannabis patients were already facing. If the government truly wants to pursue a just, evidence-based approach to cannabis policy, it should immediately allow for a medical exemption to the cannabis excise tax and move to zero-rate medical cannabis for all tax purposes.
Government policy is meant to strengthen our society, not hinder it. Treating medical cannabis just like any other treatment authorized by a physician is, quite simply, the right thing to do.