• Niche Canada

New Petition Calls on Ottawa to Stop Taxing Medicine

It’s been a week since the Government of Canada gave Royal Assent to Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. The journey to get there was complex and controversial, but in the end, many consider the legislation to be thoughtful and responsible.

There are a multitude of opinions on what the new regime should look like, but it is a comprehensive plan that addresses many issues and capitalizes on many opportunities.

There is, however, an issue that continues to raise a number of concerns – the federal government’s plan to add an additional tax on medical cannabis.

The issue is that in our country, all prescription products are exempt from tax. Patients argue that medical cannabis should be no different and the current taxation measures are adding an unfair financial burden on cannabis patients.

In Canada, cannabis will sell for about $8-10 a gram, plus sales tax. The government is also planning to add an excise tax of $1 a gram, or 10 per cent, whichever is higher. An excise tax is often referred to as a ‘sin tax’ and is typically reserved for products deemed to have a high social cost, such as tobacco or alcohol.

Unlike other prescribed medicine, medical cannabis is subject to sales tax and the federal government is also planning to add the new excise tax on top of that. To compound the issue, patients aren't eligible for reimbursement under most insurance plans like they would be with most other prescriptions.

In addition to the financial implications of these taxes, the issue is also perpetuating a long-standing stigma surrounding the distrust of the medicinal value of medical cannabis. This stigma is reinforced further by the government’s decision to exclude low-THC and CBD products from the excise tax, which suggests that these products are more medically legitimate than products with higher levels of THC.

The introduction of legal, recreational cannabis has complicated matters. The government argues that removing taxation from medical cannabis – thereby lowering the price – will lead to recreational users illegitimately using the medical system.

MP Bill Blair, the government’s point-person on the legalization file, has stated: “We do not want the taxation levels to be an incentive for people to utilize that system inappropriately and so we propose that the taxation levels for both non-medical and medical will be aligned.”

Doctors are among those calling for the removal of these taxes, stating that Canada should not be adding financial barriers to patients accessing a safer alternative to opioids.

If the government is unwilling to remove the taxes entirely, it doesn’t have to look far to see how other jurisdictions have created a fairer taxation model by implementing tax rate differentials. For example, Colorado taxes medical cannabis at a much lower rate than recreational cannabis.

Or perhaps the solution lies in making medical cannabis patients provide additional information about their conditions, a practice that is used by insurance companies for high-cost drugs.

As it stands, the government’s current taxation approach is unfairly disadvantaging patients and making medicinal cannabis less affordable and less accessible.

Canadians are now being asked to sign a new petition to address the issue. It is calling on Ottawa to make medical cannabis tax exempt, in line with all other prescription medicines. You can have your say and raise your voice for medical cannabis patients by signing the petition.