Article by Jenna Valleriani, Ottawa Citizen
When the federal government released its 2018 budget, it came as a surprise to many that it was planning to not just tax recreational cannabis, but add a new excise tax on medical cannabis as well.
Excise tax is usually reserved for products deemed to have a high social cost, such as tobacco or alcohol. However, a budget branded with the motto, “giving every Canadian a real and fair chance at success,” has seemed to overlook Canadian families already struggling with affordability and access to medical cannabis.
As it currently stands, medical cannabis is rarely covered by insurers, although this is changing. We hear time and time again that affordability is an ongoing barrier to accessing cannabis for medical purposes. There are some attempts to bridge that gap, such as “compassionate pricing” programs offered by licensed producers, but it still isn’t enough. This approach makes medical cannabis less accessible, less affordable and more of a burden for those trying to fit medical cannabis into their growing monthly costs.
Medical cannabis is already subject to sales tax, which, if treated like other prescribed medication, it wouldn’t be. Equally problematic is the decision to exclude low-THC and CBD (the chemicals in cannabis) products from the excise tax. It seems to suggest there’s something more medically legitimate about the use of low THC or CBD products.
These assumptions are disconnected from the experiences of many patients, even children, who use products with a range of THC or CBD profiles. Being a medical cannabis patient, young or old, means trying a variety of products – expensive products – out of pocket.
The government has attempted to frame the low THC exemption as saving (some) patients money, but the reality is they’re simply not applying further excise taxes on a product that should not be taxed at all to begin with.
Also consider the burden of the process of finding what works: what do patients do when they’ve purchased an oil or strain of cannabis which doesn’t work for them?