The Future of Medical Cannabis

 
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Recently we witnessed a monumental occasion as the Canadian government passed legislation (Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act) which will allow for the sale and consumption of recreational cannabis as of October 17, 2018.

This highly anticipated piece of legislation has been celebrated by the budding, fast growing Cannabis industry and enthusiasts alike.  But what does this new paradigm mean for the nearly 300,000 existing medical cannabis patients in Canada? And what is the future of medical cannabis in Canada?

This article will explore the differences between the medical and recreational system in Canada and highlight why the future is bright for medical cannabis in Canada.

One of the biggest reasons that medical cannabis has seen such an acceptance in recent years is very simply that it works and often works when everything else has failed.  Every day, patients who had given up on finding relief using traditional pharmacological approaches are finding relief using cannabis for conditions such as chronic muscle and joint pain, anxiety, fibromyalgia, insomnia, IBS, arthritis, and many more.  The majority of medical cannabis patients treat cannabis as genuine medication and will undoubtedly continue to do so after October 17th.

A recent analysis of 3,965 medical cannabis patients showed that an overwhelming 88% felt that cannabis was improving their quality of life while only 1.21% felt any negative impact.

Beyond the efficacy of medical cannabis at providing relief to patients, there are many other reasons why the future of medical cannabis is strong in Canada.

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Access

The new Cannabis Act left the existing medical system largely unchanged. This means patients can still order directly from the Licensed Producer (s) (“LP”) of their choice and have cannabis delivered directly to them without the hassle of going to a store, waiting in line, and then getting your cannabis. In provinces like Ontario only 40 stores are expected initially meaning each store will be servicing approximately 340,000 people!  One can only imagine the challenges that will present. In contrast, the medical system already has well-established and well-functioning delivery mechanisms for patients and some even offer same day delivery in the GTA. This superior access will ensure medical patients continue to have no issues in getting their medicine.

Supply

Many experts are anticipating there to be a cannabis shortage in the recreational market when the regime launches in October of this year. Thankfully for medical cannabis patients, many Licensed Producers have committed to prioritizing the supply of medical cannabis so that patients do not experience any supply interruption. This supply commitment coupled with the better access provides medical patients significant advantages with respect to obtaining their cannabis.

Price

In jurisdictions where there are both a medical and a recreational system for cannabis (for example, Colorado), the products in the medical system tend to be cheaper. Sadly, the government has mandated that Canadians pay an excise tax on medical cannabis although no other medication is subject to such a tax and no other jurisdiction has ever imposed an excise tax on medical cannabis.  Despite that, it is easy to see why medical cannabis will likely be less expensive that recreational cannabis in Canada. In the medical system, the Licensed Producers sell directly to the patient. Compare that to a process like in Alberta for example where LP’s sell cannabis to a government agency (AGLC), who then in turn sells it to private retailers, who then in turn sell it to the consumer.  Each party in that sales channel needs to add margins to cover their costs and/or make a profit, meaning that the end consumer is either faced with higher price, or in jurisdictions which may impose a tight pricing structure, lower quality product.

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Public Consumption

The Cannabis Act allows for municipalities to determine where recreational cannabis may be consumed. While many cities and towns are being quite restrictive in where recreational cannabis can be smoked,  medical cannabis patients are often exempt from such restrictions. For example, Calgary’s Cannabis Consumption Bylaw says it will be illegal to consume cannabis in any form in public places, except as designated for cannabis consumption, however, medical cannabis users are exempt from that.  

 

Novel Products

The future of medical cannabis will also be driven by new novel delivery mechanisms and products. While the recreational market at launch will be limited to dried cannabis, edible oils, and pre-rolled joints, in the near future we will see the emergence of new medical products such as orally dissolving tablets, transdermal patches, suppositories, etc which are aimed at targeting specific medical conditions and helping patients consume cannabis with controlled dosses while avoiding smoking.   

Insurance Coverage

Insurance plans are evolving to address medical cannabis.  Already, many insurance plans allow for the use of the discretionary health spending funds to cover the cost of medical cannabis and we are seeing new insurance products emerge which will cover medical cannabis (not recreational cannabis). We are also seeing unions, and other groups, create specific coverage for medical cannabis for their members.  It is anticipated that we will continue to see the increase in such insurance products and as novel clearly medical cannabis products emerge in the market, coverage may extend more easily to those products than dried bud.

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Employment Law

Employers have a duty to try and accommodate the use of medical cannabis for those who have been diagnosed and are in the legitimate medical cannabis system.  No such duty to accommodate will be present for recreational users. This can be a significant point for many patients.

Budtenders vs Educators

Budtenders at recreational shops and dispensaries will be prohibited from talking about the therapeutic values of cannabis. They will not be able to recommend strains or products for any medical conditions. In contrast, educators at clinics play a critical role in helping patients explore medical cannabis with suggestions on the types of products and strains which may be best suited for the conditions the patients are seeking to address. The amount of guidance and education available to patients will be significantly higher at clinics through educators than that which will be able to be provided by Budtenders.

All in all, there are many advantages for patients in the medical system and as a result the medical system in Canada will remain robust for the foreseeable future.

-by Shekhar Parmar

Originally posted on HMED.ca