Why become a medical cannabis patient?

NamasteMD

The Cannabis Act, a set of regulations that legalized cannabis use across Canada, took effect on October 17, 2018. It’s since gone through several iterations as policymakers have tried to change regulations to better suit prospective patients, and has provided a new set of rules geared towards the growing, buying and selling of medical and adult-use cannabis in Canada. 

This ever shifting flux in policy may even have some people asking: what’s the point in becoming a medical patient if cannabis is recreationally available?

Patients now have access to a wide range of benefits previously unavailable to them. These include access to low-income pricing and healthcare practitioners, among many others.

To get to the heart of the matter we compiled a list of benefits currently available to medical cannabis patients. You can find these benefits outlined below. 

Basic patient benefits

Access to healthcare providers

The first, and most lucrative patient benefit is the access to healthcare practitioners it offers. 

Individuals with medical needs can begin this process by speaking with their regular physician about their concerns. Your doctor can then help determine whether or not medical cannabis is a good choice for you. This kind of care in and of itself is extremely valuable as the extent of cannabis’ effects on different patients is still not fully understood. A doctor can, for instance, inform you about potential drug interactions with cannabis. They can also let you know about susceptible groups that should avoid cannabis or simply refer you to a clinic for more specialized care.

Once your doctor has filled out an authorization form you can then seek care at one of the many specialized clinics throughout Canada. These include places like the Greenleaf Medical Clinic, a specialty clinic that helps Canadian patients determine the appropriateness of using medical cannabis for their symptoms. Other specialty clinics like the Apollo Cannabis Clinics may not even require a physician referral form but can still help you determine an ideal treatment plan.

Wider variety of products available for purchase

Patients are able to purchase their cannabis from federally licensed sellers/producers. This offers patients a much wider range of products to purchase. Health Canada, for instance, has licensed more producers in the last year than in the past four years combined. The increase in licensed producers allows for more competitive prices in addition to the increased availability of products. 

A list of licensed sellers and cultivators can be found here

Growing cannabis for your own medical purposes

Registered patients are able to grow up to 4 cannabis plants per residence for personal use. Patients can also opt to designate someone to produce the cannabis for them. Individuals are also limited to producing cannabis for a maximum of two patients per registration

Low-income patient care

Some patients may also be eligible for low income patient care. These include compassion care based programs. Some private producers, such as Cannimed’s Compassionate Pricing Program, offer reduced rates for qualifying patients. Patients living on disability or similar low income government programs can qualify for a 25% price reduction. 

Insurance coverage

Medical cannabis is listed as an eligible medical expense by the Canadian Revenue Agency. As such some insurance providers offer coverage for patients’ medical cannabis treatment. Certain healthcare plans also allow patients to utilize a Health Spending Account (HSA) component to over out-of-pocket costs as well. Contact your plan administrator to confirm if medical cannabis will be covered by your HSA. 

A list of insurance providers covering medical cannabis can be found here

Tax benefits

Bet you didn’t expect there’d be some neat tax benefits for registering as a medical patient, did you? That’s right—medical cannabis purchased from a licensed producer can be claimed on your personal tax return.

Veterans

Veteran patients qualify for specialized cannabis care benefits. Qualified candidates may be eligible for the cost of treatment. They can also be reimbursed for the cost of their cannabis (with the exception of seeds and plants) if its purchased from a federally licensed seller.

If treatment is not available certain veterans may be entitled to non-pensioned/awarded conditions. 

Additional benefits

The benefits extended to medical patients go beyond basic access to healthcare. 

Access to online providers

Medical cannabis patients can also enjoy the benefit of purchasing cannabis from licensed producers online. Some of these vendors even offer same day shipping. You can view a list of some of these providers here.

Patients can order a maximum of 150 grams (a 30 day supply) at a time. However patients can also order as often as they wish within a one month period.

New models are emerging in an effort to better integrate pharmacies with the medical cannabis program. Shoppers Drug Mart Corp, a Canadian retail pharmacy chain based in Toronto, announced it would unveil such a program earlier this year. The program is available as of September 2019 and helps patients who qualify under Manulife insurance choose the correct strain and dosage for their needs. The final product is delivered to the patient’s home, with additional support available through phone or email. 

Ability to modify cannabis

Both recreational and medical users are currently unable to purchase cannabis edibles under current regulations. A change in the former MMAR law means that registered patients now have the ability to modify the dried cannabis into other products such as oils—provided they do not use organic solvents like butane.

Other specialty programs

A variety of other specialized programs are also available to medical patients. These are usually offered by private clinics and can vary. A few include Apollo’s Continuing Care Program that helps elderly patients access high quality medical cannabis. 

For the greater good benefits

One of the greatest things about Canada’s medical cannabis program is the new wave of research it’ll inspire. 

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has stated that they’re investing a significant amount of money—$24.5 million, to be exact--dedicated to researching cannabis/cannabinoid use for medical purposes. The funding is to be distributed among 26 different projects across the country with the goal of establishing Canada as a world leader in cannabis research.

Health Canada also plans on collecting data gathered from patient surveys to better understand patient needs within the medical cannabis program. They also intend to continually report scientific findings “with respect to potential therapeutic uses of cannabis for medical purposes”.

Conclusion

Registering as a medical patient opens you up to a wide range of potential benefits. These include the ability to purchase a larger range of products both in-store and online, the ability to grow cannabis, access to healthcare providers, potential insurance coverage and tax benefits, among others.