Pubdate: Fri, 03 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: S1


Nova Scotia's human-rights board has ruled that a man suffering from
chronic pain must have his marijuana prescription paid for by his
employee-insurance plan, with advocates saying the decision opens the
door for patients across Canada to push for similar cannabis coverage.

Gordon Skinner, from a community just outside Halifax, had argued that
he faced discrimination when he was denied coverage by the Canadian
Elevator Industry Welfare Trust Plan. He has been using medical
cannabis to treat pain from an on-the-job car accident that forced him
from work as an elevator mechanic more than six years ago.

In a written decision posted online Thursday, the provincial
inquiry-board chair found that Mr. Skinner's plan could not exclude
paying for his cannabis because it required a doctor's prescription.
The ruling states that the insurance plan contravened the province's
Human Rights Act, and must now cover his medical-marijuana expenses
"up to and including the full amount of his most recent

"Denial of his request for coverage of medical marijuana … amounts to
a prima-facie case of discrimination," the ruling states. "The
discrimination was nondirect and unintentional."

In Canada, only veterans, some first responders and a small number of
private citizens get their medical marijuana covered by
health-insurance providers. That's because Health Canada has not
approved marijuana as a medicine, so insurers are less inclined to
offer coverage.

Deepak Anand, executive director of the Canadian National Medical
Marijuana Association, said the ruling is significant and could see a
number of people apply for coverage through their provincial
human-rights commissions.

"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," Mr. Anand said.
He said he knew of one other instance where an insurance company
agreed to cover medical marijuana - for University of Waterloo student
Jonathan Zaid in 2015.

Mr. Zaid, who now heads the patient advocacy group Canadians for Fair
Access to Medical Marijuana, said Thursday's ruling could extend to
other medical-cannabis patients that have similar contract language in
their employee plans.

"All patients can use this and show the feasibility of insurance
coverage and how it's a human right and how medical cannabis should be
treated just like any other prescription medication," Mr. Zaid said.

However, he added, the exclusion of cannabis coverage from many
people's plans hinges on the drug not having been issued a unique
number by Health Canada that identifies its manufacturer, product
name, active ingredients, strength, pharmaceutical form and route of

Mr. Zaid said he is hoping Ottawa unveils a legalization framework
later this spring that ensure patients have reliable access to the
drug, regardless of how recreational marijuana ends up being sold.

Thursday's ruling states Mr. Skinner must buy his medical marijuana
from one of the 30 large producers licensed by Health Canada or a
person legally authorized to produce for him.

"I'm elated, I'm still in shock, it's really still sinking in to be
honest with you," Mr. Skinner said in a telephone interview from his
home outside Halifax.

He argued his own case before the board last October after being
denied coverage three times, and said he hoped the inquiry-board's
ruling would set a precedent.

"Hopefully, this will help other people in similar situations and
eliminate the fight that myself and my family have had to endure and
the hardship that this has resulted in."

The board found that Mr. Skinner's chronic pain has been undermanaged
as a result of the denial of coverage, resulting in "profoundly
negative effects on the complainant and his family."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt