Medical Marijuana – Quick Facts for Employers

12 Apr Medical Marijuana – Quick Facts for Employers

Patient access to medical marijuana has been available in Canada since 2001. But the looming legalization of recreational marijuana has brought the drug into sharp focus for employers curious about how marijuana could impact benefit plans as well as health and safety of the workplace. Growing social acceptance of the drug may have increased its popularity both recreationally and for medical use.

There are over 167,000 Canadians currently using medical cannabis – a significant increase from 30,000 registered users in October 2015. With the increasing number of patients accessing Medical Cannabis through Licensed Practitioners, employers will need to become familiar with the opportunities and implications on drug and benefits plans as well as the health and well-being of employees.

Quick facts

– Cannabis has been identified as an effective treatment option for a variety of ailments including nausea, chronic pain, glaucoma, arthritis, and more.

– Many medical cannabis products are CBD-based, not THC-based. THC is the compound responsible for the “high-inducing” effects of marijuana while CBD does not have any psychoactive effects.

– In October of 2016, a human rights board in Nova Scotia determined that a man’s prescribed medical cannabis must be covered by his company’s insurance plan.

– In 2017, OPSEU, Loblaw’s, Shoppers Drug Mart and Weston Foods announced that they will be covering medical cannabis for their employees.

– Patients can use medical cannabis in a variety of forms, including capsules, oils as well as dried flower which can be “vaporized” as an alternative to smoking.

How can employers address medical marijuana?

This emerging focus has spurred a number of changes in the benefits marketplace, and there are several strategies that can be pursued. While the vast majority of group insurance carriers are not allowing medical marijuana to be submitted for reimbursement under the insured prescription drug benefit, there are other alternatives:

Health Care Spending Accounts: employees covered by a health care spending account can submit medical cannabis for reimbursement. Employers could also consider including it as an eligible expense under a taxable wellness account. Some employers have set up a small Health Spending Account just for this purpose.

Sun Life Financial: So far, Sun Life is the only carrier to announce that medical cannabis is eligible under the core insured prescription drug coverage.

Partner with a preferred provider: Employers can enter a preferred supplier or exclusive supplier arrangement to help employees source safe, consistent, and effective medical cannabis. Additional supports through these arrangements include HR policy advisory services and case study information.

Regardless of whether the use of medical or recreational marijuana has come up at your organization, it is important to develop policies around impairment of any kind – including the use of alcohol or even medications with the ability to impair. Providing employees with a safe way to disclose impairment without fear of punitive action can protect you, your employees, and your customers.