If you’re into marijuana—like, really into marijuana—you should move to Canada. Particularly if you’re into having your federal government license and permit a nationwide medical-cannabis distribution system—and especially if you’d like having your employer-provided health insurance pick up the tab for your own personal stash.
A retired elevator mechanic in Nova Scotia, left with chronic back pain after an on-the-job injury, recently convinced a human-rights board that his union-provided insurance plan must cover his medical-marijuana treatments.
And, as the CBC is reporting, the binding ruling has cannabis advocates across the country convinced that other insurers will follow suit—provided, of course that workers push for it.
“If they could start to use this avenue to try to get their employers or insurance providers to start covering it, I think that’s going to be significant and we are going to see more of that,” Deepak Anand, executive director of the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association, told the CBC.
The elevator repairman, Gordon “Wayne” Skinner, succeeded in large part because his cannabis treatment was prescribed by a doctor. This is one potential hangup for other marijuana patients tired of their insurance coverage picking up the tab for pharmaceutical drugs and not cannabis.
There are still many doctors, on both Canada’s public option for healthcare (another advantage of living north of the border) and on the private market, that do not view marijuana as a medicine and thus do not write cannabis prescriptions, according to the CBC. About two-thirds of Canadians are covered by private insurance.
But there are positive signs.
Several dozen private companies have asked Canadian marijuana advocates about including cannabis in their employee healthcare plans, according to Anand. And the Canadian equivalent of Safeway recently announced that its employees’ insurance would begin covering medical marijuana.
As Leafly News is reporting, Loblaws Companies, which operates a supermarket and a drugstore chain that employs 200,000 people, recently announced that its employee benefits plans would cover medical marijuana. (This is mostly thanks to the company executive, Galen G. Weston, who says he’d like his stores to eventually carry marijuana products, possibly sometime after the country legalizes cannabis, as it is expected to do by summer 2018.)
Currently, all legal cannabis in Canada is grown, sold and distributed by one of about 40 companies with licenses from Health Canada. Cannabis can only be sold to approved patients, to whom their medicine is shipped directly.
In the United States, efforts to compel employers or insurance companies to cover medical marijuana have been met with mixed success. In New Mexico, state courts have ruled that employees or retirees for whom medical marijuana is recommended must have their cannabis treatments covered by their employer-provided health insurance.
But, as the New York Times reported, very few medical cannabis patients are covered in this way—and in the case of the New Mexico patient whose cannabis was covered, he also worked for a labor union (as many Americans don’t) with a good health-care plan (ditto), and his condition for which cannabis was recommended was also work-related.
And all cannabis patients in America with low-income, government-subsidized healthcare like Medicaid or Medicare are on their own, and must pay for their preferred medicine out-of-pocket.
As it stands, merely using medical marijuana in the U.S. is a good way to lose your health insurance: Employers still have the right to fire workers for off-the-clock marijuana use under state and federal “Drug-Free Workplace” laws.
Canada’s cannabis coverage could also stand to be better.
Currently, Health Canada doesn’t officially view cannabis as an “official drug” (in the legitimate, doctor-prescribed, “it’s a real medicine” sense). And insurance officials commenting on the Skinner case told CBC that it’s still up to individual plans to decide if they want to cover marijuana. But, considering how far most Americans are from securing decent healthcare of any kind—let alone anything that would even consider paying for weed—Canada is a fantasyland.