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August 20, 2014
New medical marijuana rules impair easy plan administration

Medical marijuana gained greater legitimacy as a medical treatment this April with the passage of the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations law.  

Under the terms of the new legislation, Canadians requiring marijuana for medical treatments will now be able to legally purchase the drug from one of 12 government-approved growers.  

While the use of marijuana has been approved to relieve symptoms of a number of medical conditions since 2001, licensed users of the drug have often found themselves in conflict with police and other law enforcement agencies. The result was that many of the 40,000 individuals licensed to use the drug for medical purposes found themselves in limbo. While they were allowed to use the drug, they often found themselves facing drug trafficking or drug possession charges when they attempted to buy it.

Medical marijuana has been used to treat nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy, muscle spasticity in diseases such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic pain and as an appetite stimulant for HIV and cancer patients.

Under the new rules, medical marijuana will now be available legally under the following conditions:

  • an individual must obtain a prescription from a licensed physician (there are no restrictions on the  medical conditions the prescription may involve);
  • the prescription must be forwarded to one of the 12 federally licensed growers of the product;
  • the marijuana producers must consult with the patient on the appropriate strain of marijuana required;
  • the product must be delivered by courier to the patient; and
  • the amount dispensed must not exceed 150 grams per month.

While the new regulations will make life easier for users of medical marijuana, they still present challenges for benefit plan sponsors and administrators.

The product still does not have a drug identification number (DIN) from Health Canada, which could result in it not being considered an eligible medication under many group drug plans.  Claims involving marijuana could be declined.  As a result, plan sponsors or administrators should expect to receive enquiries or feedback from plan members using medical marijuana.

Costs of government-licensed medical marijuana range from $4 to $12 per gram.  Based on the 150 gram per person per month maximum, out-of-pocket costs for the medication could range from $7,200 to $21,600 per year.

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