Medical cannabis users to face an increase in prescription costs if Bill C-74 passes

Advocates for medical cannabis are preparing to fight the government’s official proposal of a new excise tax for prescription pot.

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Advocates for medical cannabis are preparing to fight the government’s official proposal of a new excise tax for prescription pot.

Bill C-74, the Budget Implementation Act, includes a plan to tax legal cannabis at either $1 per gram or 10 percent of the product price, whichever is greater, Finance Canada officials confirmed yesterday (April 26). All products will fall under this increase barring some only containing trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis.

In a news release, NDP finance critic Peter Julian urged Minister of Finance Bill Morneau to zero-rate medical cannabis tax in line with all other prescription medicine and to exempt it from any additional taxes based on the fact that one-in-five Canadians already can’t afford their critical medicine.

“We believe that the Liberals’ medicinal cannabis tax policy is misconceived, unfair to patients, and damaging to public health. Why wasn’t this tax exempted from the budget implementation act?” asks Julian in the release.

The MP for New Westminster-Burnaby goes on to highlight the dangers of increasing the cost of medical cannabis, advising Morneau and the finance committee to “do the right thing” in the name of some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

“The cost of this prescription medicine is already an obstacle for the over 250,000 authorized cannabis patients. Government should be helping patients ease their financial burden. Unless this government steps in, this excise duty tax could very well push many Canadians and their families into a health crisis, at a time when the need for a universal pharmacare program in our country has never been greater,” he says.

P.E.I.-based cannabis activist and educator Annie MacEachern fears the tax will drive Canadians to the black market to meet their medicinal needs, undercutting one of the main reasons driving recreational legalization.

“I’ve met so many patients who are under-dosing because they can’t afford to fill their entire prescription,” she told the Straight by phone, adding that patients won’t likely be discouraged by the tax from using cannabis, but rather pushed to find cheaper alternatives.

Co-founder and communications director of GoCanna, a cannabis tourism company, MacEachern hosted an event earlier this month in partnership with Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana to educate people about medical cannabis and the #DontTaxMedicine campaign.

“I was surprised with the diversity of the people who showed up,” she said, adding that the crowd was composed of a variety of patients looking for alternatives to their conventional medicine.

“We had a lot of people asking, ‘how can I help?’ afterwards and really just inspired to get involved.”

She’s hoping education will encourage attendees to write their local MPs and advocate in their own communities. MacEachern will speak to the Ministry of Finance on Wednesday regarding Bill C-74 in an effort to encourage the government to drop the excise tax.

After speaking to several local politicians and advocates, MacEachern says most don’t have a good answer as to why the government waives taxes on conventional prescription medicines but not cannabis.

“It’s likely to do with the fact that [cannabis] doesn’t have a Drug Identification Number,” she said, a number assigned by Health Canada to prescription and over-the-counter products prior to being marketed.

NDP health critic Don Davies, MP for Vancouver-Kingsway, also added his support to nix the increase.

“Canadians that have a prescription for medical cannabis are currently forced to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars every month to acquire a sufficient amount of medicine, or choose a riskier option, like a prescription opioid, because it’s tax exempt and covered for reimbursement,” he says in the joint release.

“This is perverse, and even more illogical given the growing body of data which suggests that cannabis can play a significant role in addressing the opioid crisis.”

MacEacern agreed, saying in the face of rising addiction levels and an overdose crisis this is not a time to limit access to safer, regulated alternatives.

“It’s exciting to see MPs passionate about changing this,” she says, adding Julian’s letter armed her with information and terminology she needs to strengthen her argument preceding her visit to the House of Commons on May 2nd.

Julian put forward an amendment to Bill C-74 to end the excise tax on medical cannabis, which the finance committee will vote on next month.

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