Although medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001, there’s still an uphill struggle for those who believe in the medicinal use of cannabis to aid in treatment. Many medical professionals remain skeptical in the absence of high-quality research, and obtaining an authorization to incorporate cannabis into medical treatment can be difficult.
Another barrier for patients who may benefit from the use of medical cannabis in the management and treatment of a health condition is social attitudes. Although attitudes are changing, the illegal status of cannabis and discussion of it as a “gateway drug” have made many resist the idea it could be used medicinally.
Insurance companies tend to be fairly conservative. They’ve thus been slow to consider offering coverage for medical marijuana to qualifying patients. Many employers have also raised concerns about the inclusion of medical cannabis in benefits plans, as well as concerns about the use of the substance by employees during work hours.
Cannabis in 20th-Century Canada
As the federal government continues to push toward recreational legalization, alongside the long-standing legal status of medical cannabis, it’s a good idea to stop and take stock of the traditional view of cannabis in Canadian society.
Cannabis became illegal in the 1920s. In the 1930s, a “moral panic” surrounded the substance in both Canada and the US. It quickly became associated with crime, and some suggested it was a “gateway drug” that would lead to the use of substances such as heroin and cocaine.
Thanks to these views, many people have been punished quite harshly for possessing even small amounts of cannabis. Many cannabis enthusiasts pushed for change, even from the 1960s and 1970s, when cannabis was largely associated with the counter-culture and “hippy” movements.
A Changing Landscape
Around the dawn of the new millennium, people’s attitudes towards cannabis began to change. Even law enforcement officers were tired of spending what they saw as excessive resources on charging people who possessed a very small amount of marijuana for personal use.
In 2001, the federal government made cannabis legal for medicinal purposes in Canada. Research had started to indicate medical marijuana could have some uses for patients. Today, research continues, and attitudes continue to change.
Insurance Begins to Change
In February 2018, a large Canadian health insurance company finally opted to offer coverage for medical cannabis. This was a huge breakthrough for medical cannabis patients and for the medical cannabis industry. With insurance now available to some, medical cannabis could perhaps be more obtainable for more patients. It also heralded perhaps wider change in the industry with the hope that more insurance companies will soon follow suit.
Sun Life’s policy change took into account the growing body of evidence that suggests cannabis does have some medical uses. The policy change, which became effective on March 1, 2018, aimed to make this emerging treatment option available to more people.
Sun Life now offers up to $6,000 per person per year. The amounts will vary by case. Sun Life will consider conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, palliative care, and rheumatoid arthritis as eligible conditions. Sun Life insures more than 22,000 companies in Canada, making this insurance option widely available to patients who need access.
More Change on the Horizon?
While Sun Life’s move represents a major shake-up in the insurance world, it remains unclear when and if more insurance companies will follow suit. It seems as though they may need to, particularly if giants like Sun Life are moving forward on the basis of medical evidence.
Other major players to consider will be the provincial governments, which currently don’t offer coverage. Since not all Canadians have private insurance through a company like Sun Life, government funding is essential to making this potential treatment available to all Canadians who stand to benefit.