HealthCanada Recommends Keeping Medical and Adult-use Cannabis Programs Separate

Today, HealthCanada issued a report with several recommendations for how the country can implement an adult-use (recreational) cannabis program. One of the recommendations is that Canada should maintain a separate program for medical cannabis patients rather than merge the medical program into the adult-use program. This recommendation is in step with ASA's recommendations to states when considering adult-use cannabis programs.

The HealthCanada report recognizes that patients often seek difference forms cannabis and cannabis-derived products than what the typical adult-use consumer seeks to purchase. Maintaining a separately regulated system for medical cannabis patients is the best way that governments can ensure that patient needs are addressed in jurisdictions with medical and adult-use access. Washington State has experimented with merging its medical program into the I-502 adult-use program, which has led to reports of patients no longer have quality and consistent access to medical cannabis products.

The medical cannabis recommendations are as follows:

Advice to Ministers

The Task Force recommends that the federal government:

  • Maintain a separate medical access framework to support patients
  • Monitor and evaluate patients' reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes through the implementation of the new system, with action as required to ensure that the market provides reasonable affordability and availability and that regulations provide authority for measures that may be needed to address access issues
  • Review the role of designated persons under the ACMPR with the objective of eliminating this category of producer
  • Apply the same tax system for medical and non-medical cannabis products
  • Promote and support pre-clinical and clinical research on the use of cannabis and cannabinoids for medical purposes, with the aim of facilitating submissions of cannabis-based products for market authorization as drugs
  • Support the development and dissemination of information and tools for the medical community and patients on the appropriate use of cannabis for medical purposes
  • Evaluate the medical access framework in five years

One of the medical cannabis recommendations in the HealthCanada report that ASA does not agree with in the recommendation to tax medical and adult-use at the same rates. ASA strongly believes that medical cannabis should not be taxed because patients are already facing additional financial burdens that non-patients do not encounter. While the recommendation is likely in place to prevent alleged abuse of a medical tax-exemption, this concern should not override the needs and challenges of patients.

Despite the tax recommendation, ASA applauds HealthCanada for recognizing that medical and adult-use programs are best administered as separate programs. The patients of Canada will be better off because of it and US states considering merging these two approaches should benefit from the recommendations of this report and keep their programs separate.