Medical versus Recreational, What Cannabis Concerns Exist for Plan Sponsors?
It was announced in June that marijuana will be fully legalized across the country on October 17, 2018. This decision pertains to recreational usage, but the reality is, Plan sponsors have been dealing with legal marijuana use from a medical point of view since 1999. Many wonder if there are different concerns with recreational versus medical usage.
Many court decisions since 1999 have shaped the resulting acts and regulations of today. Ever wondered how we got here? Some History on medical Cannabis is summarized below.
(The words marijuana and cannabis are both utilized throughout, with one Government act below also referring to “marihuana”. To our knowledge, these words are all interchangeable.)
Legal access to marijuana for medical purposes was first passed under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).
Further medical and legal cases led to the implementation of the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). This act enabled individuals to gain access to dried marijuana, based on authorization of their medical practitioner. Access was gained through producing their own marijuana plants, designating someone to produce for them or purchasing Health Canada supply.
In June of this year, the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) were passed. This allowed for a commercial industry to be responsible for the production and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes. These regulations allowed access to quality controlled dried marijuana, supporting this in a secure and sanitary manner.
The Supreme Court of Canada decided in June that restricting legal access to only dried marijuana for medical purposes was unconstitutional. By July of this year licensed producers could sell cannabis oil, fresh marijuana buds & leaves as well as dried marijuana.
In August the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) replaced the MMPR. This recent regulation enables individuals to apply to Health Canada to become registered to produce limited amounts of cannabis for their own medical purposes, or to designate someone to produce cannabis for them.
The Government of Canada link which contains all information about Cannabis in Canada is as follows:
Coverage for medical Cannabis is currently offered by a handful of insurers and added to policies only at the request of the Plan Sponsor. This is typically covered under the medical services and supplies section of the contract. There is no Drug Identification Number (DIN) for this product; therefore, it cannot fall under the drug coverage within a group benefits contract. When plan sponsors decide to add this to their coverage, there are firm parameters around claim eligibility. For example: age restrictions, a specific few medical conditions being met and annual maximums (typically between $2,000-6,000). This being said, claims for medical cannabis have been allowed to flow through Health Care Spending Accounts for years. Arguably, the recent decisions to fully legalize marijuana from a recreational standpoint has drawn heightened attention to the medical usage. Plan sponsors are now questioning their internal benefit philosophy with respect to covering medical marijuana, while also faced with how to handle usage within the workplace from a recreational standpoint.
What concern exists around the legalization of marijuana from a recreational point of view? There are increased concerns about safety in the workplace. Has this usage always been a safety concern though, similar to any other illicit drugs? Ultimately, it’s imperative that Plan Sponsors have workplace substance abuse policies. These policies should be tailored around their industry specific health and safety needs. One could predict that marijuana/cannabis usage will be treated similarly to any current policy mentioning alcohol use; given the similar impairing issues with usage. Now is the opportunity to ensure that all internal policies and procedures are proactively amended.
With the many discussions around medical and recreational cannabis usage, it has become apparent that there is grey area. The lines can be further blurred with respect to accommodating employees who may be prescribed medical marijuana, and what that usage looks like within the workplace. The key to navigating through the imminent legalization seems to be distinguishing between policies which manage abuse and workplace safety versus outline grounds for medical requirement. As with any policy, persistent monitoring, especially in its’ infancy, is essential.
Additional information and articles on the topics above can be found in the following Benefits Canada article from June 29, 2018.
Please also watch our website for blog posts on this subject.