Pubdate: Mon, 29 May 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: S1


One of Canada's largest medical cannabis producers says it will fund a
Nova Scotia man's ongoing legal fight to have his marijuana
prescription paid for by his employee-insurance plan - the latest move
in a nationwide push by industry, patients and their advocates for
more widespread cannabis coverage.

Aurora Cannabis Inc., a publicly traded grower based in Alberta,
announced this week that it will bankroll elevator mechanic Gordon
Skinner's coming defence this fall in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

Aurora executive vice-president Cam Battley said the original ruling,
by Nova Scotia's human-rights board last year that found Mr. Skinner's
medicine should be covered, should extend to other patients with
similar plans.

"Patients have access to insurance reimbursement for a very broad
range of prescription medicines," Mr. Battley said. "Patients can get
reimbursement through their insurance programs for opioids - and you
know that we have an opioid crisis in this country.

"When medical cannabis can provide an alternative and, in some cases,
a safer alternative, it does make sense that it be treated the same
way as other prescription products."

In Canada, only veterans, some first responders and a small number of
private citizens get their medical cannabis 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.

John Conroy, an Abbotsford, B.C.,-based lawyer who was involved in a
case that forced Health Canada to rewrite its medical-marijuana rules
last year, said, if it stands, the Nova Scotia ruling could set a
precedent for patients seeking coverage in other provinces with
similar human-rights laws.

"The ruling is saying the insurance company mustn't discriminate on
the basis of a drug," he said. "So, they're providing coverage for
people with chronic pain who want opiates that could kill them, but
they won't provide coverage for cannabis, which won't kill them."

Mr. Skinner successfully argued his own case before Nova Scotia's
human-rights board last October after being denied coverage for
cannabis three times by his insurer, the Canadian Elevator Industry
Welfare Trust Plan.

Mr. Skinner, from a community just outside Halifax, had argued that he
faced discrimination when he was denied coverage for medical cannabis
to treat chronic pain from an onthe-job car accident that forced him
to retire years ago.

The provincial inquiry-board chair found that Mr. Skinner's plan
unintentionally discriminated against him by not paying for his
cannabis because it required a doctor's prescription.

The ruling stated 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

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."

The trustees of Mr. Skinner's plan have appealed the ruling and a
hearing is set for Oct. 2. Mr. Battley said his company would continue
supporting Mr. Skinner if that ruling is appealed to the Supreme Court
of Canada.

Jonathan Zaid, head of the patient advocacy group Canadians for Fair
Access to Medical Marijuana, said 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 administration. He also said he and other patient advocates
were disappointed Ottawa made no mention of how it would increase the
affordability of medical cannabis when it recently unveiled its
legalization framework.

Advocates and licensed producers have long called on Canada to remove
sales tax on medical cannabis, just like it has for other prescription
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt