When the federal government proposed an excise tax on medical cannabis to be implemented post-legalization in November, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana sprung into action, kicking off a letter-writing campaign, petition and social media campaign to draw awareness to what the group says is an unfair tax.
“Fundamentally that’s not how we treat medicines in Canada,” says Jonathan Zaid, founder and executive director of CFAMM, pointing out that prescription medicines are not normally subject to taxes. “We make medicines affordable. Applying a tax to medical cannabis will hurt the vast majority of patients, and that’s now how we do things.”
Their campaigns drew press attention, and Zaid says 16,000 Canadians have sent letters to their respective MPs. So far, 11 non-profits and a group of physicians have also joined the chorus calling for a rethinking of the tax. But the Liberal government hasn’t responded as to whether or not the tax will be implemented. That’s why the group is planning a demonstration for this Friday, January 26 outside of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office on Parliament Street in Toronto.
The government’s proposal would add $1 to the current prices, which range from $8 to $12/g, and was designed to ensure cannabis for medical purposes isn’t less expensive than what will be available to rec users, potentially drawing interest from recreational users who could lie about medical requirements to access the cheaper product. But Zaid argues that abuse of the ACMPR isn’t really the issue: the challenge is bringing medical patients who are currently buying black market product into the government medical program – not protecting abusers from accessing it.
A recent survey of Canadian cannabis users says that of those who use it for medicinal purposes, 33 per cent obtain it from a family member or friend; 23 per cent get it from a compassion club or a dispensary and 22 per cent buy cannabis from a drug dealer. Just 21 per cent said they obtain cannabis through an acquaintance or a licensed producer, with another 19 per cent said they accessed cannabis for medical purposes through Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). The data raises some questions, such as: how does one obtain LP cannabis without registering with the ACMPR? But it also indicates that a large swath of medicinal cannabis users are not registered with Health Canada at this time.