From workplace discrimination to high costs, there’s plenty of fight left for cannabis advocates
Submitted by Marijuana News
I’ve been fighting for medical cannabis patients for 25 years. From riding my bike around Vancouver with a pager and a canvas backpack delivering cannabis to patients during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the mid-90s, to opening the country’s first medical cannabis organization, I became Canopy Growth’s first chief advocacy officer in the global cannabis space.
A lot has changed since 1995, but not my dedication to improving Canada’s medical cannabis program.
Through the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government recommended that medical cannabis be considered essential to the country’s critical health care infrastructure. We have come a long way since the days I spent biking around Vancouver. But this 4/20 Month, we can’t forget the nearly 370,000 patients in Canada who rely on the medical access channel who still face multiple barriers to obtaining their medication.
People who use medical cannabis still, for the most part, don’t qualify for reimbursement through private health insurance plans. Today, some employers have added medical cannabis to their employee benefit plans, but this should be the norm, not the exception. Most can’t afford to pay for medications out-of-pocket. This is an unfair financial burden on sick Canadians, people who are coping with symptoms where standard therapies haven’t worked, and who are relying on cannabis to increase their quality of life. Medical cannabis allows many of these folks to do things a lot of us take for granted, like go for a walk, pick up our kids or even fold the laundry. Why should they – some of the most vulnerable among us – have to pay out-of-pocket to access the only treatment that works for them?
We also haven’t yet eliminated the stigma of medical cannabis because there are still prohibitive workplace policies that treat employees who use it unfairly. It’s up to employers to accommodate employees who use medical cannabis, the same way they would for any other medication. This is also good for the employer: Accommodating for symptom management should positively impact employee performance, rather than encouraging absenteeism.
Recent estimates from Statistics Canada suggest that six million people across Canada experience some form of chronic pain — or approximately 19 per cent of the population. Individuals with neurological conditions including spinal cord injury, stroke, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease have chronic pain symptoms twice as frequently as the general population. Medical cannabis has shown promise as a treatment, both anecdotally and in clinical trials, and research into its effectiveness continues to progress. Employees in Canada missed an average of 10 days in 2019, with some of the most common reasons employees take sick days being because of pain, fatigue, or mental health problems. Accommodating safe medical cannabis use could mean that employees are able to show up on days they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Lastly, Canada’s doctors need to be better-educated about how to incorporate cannabis into treatment plans. Consumers need stronger guidance exploring cannabinoid ratios, methods of ingesting and dosing – both to maximize the therapeutic benefit and minimize potential risks. This begins with education for healthcare professionals, and medical schools still do not arm healthcare professionals with education about the science of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system. Continuing Medical Education (CME) programs help fill the gap in knowledge, but Canadians need to be able to seek proper guidance from their healthcare practitioner.
Now more than ever, we need to support the medical cannabis community to ensure they’re able to take care of themselves. By eliminating these barriers, Canada can show the rest of the world world what medical cannabis programs should look like.
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