CANADA: Patients who use cannabis for medical purposes had the opportunity today to directly address the federal government’s Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation about their issues and concerns as the Task Force develops recommendations for the government’s planned major changes to Canadian laws about cannabis.
The full afternoon session in Toronto, hosted by leading Canadian patient advocacy groups The Arthritis Society, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana and the Canadian AIDS Society and long-time medical cannabis patient advocate Hilary Black, was co-chaired by the Task Force Chair, The Hon. A. Anne McLellan.
The patients participating in the afternoon session represent a wide diversity of Canadians who currently use cannabis for medical purposes. A key concern for patients is that with the legalization of cannabis for personal use, the government must ensure that the new legal framework responds to and prioritizes patients’ needs.
Patient issues and experience
During the session, patients told the Task Force of their experiences and challenges in accessing a regulated and affordable supply of medical cannabis and evidence-based information about this therapy, focusing on four main topics: access to sources, affordability, variety of products, and research and information needs.
Patients emphasized the importance of having access to a supply of medical cannabis in all its forms and potencies that is regulated for safety, potency and quality under a new regime that provides for a variety of distribution options, such as self-production, mail order and through pharmacies and retail outlets.
Medical cannabis costs are a significant financial strain for many patients, especially if they are on a fixed income. Patients spoke about affordability issues due to lack of access to insurance coverage for medical cannabis and the burden of having to pay sales taxes, unlike prescription drugs. Some patients shared how this financial burden forces them to choose between their medical cannabis and basic life necessities, such as groceries. Patients called on the Task Force to ensure access to affordable medicine is provided as part of legalization.
Patients described the need for more research and evidence-based information for both doctors and patients. Many face barriers in finding a physician that is well informed about the use of cannabis for medical purposes and in a position to integrate it into their patients’ treatment options.
“I’d like to thank The Arthritis Society, the Canadian AIDS Society and Canadians For Fair Access to Medical Marijuana for organizing today’s productive roundtable so the Task Force could hear directly from patients about their concerns regarding cannabis legalization,” said Anne McLellan, Chair of the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation. “The voices of patients are important to the Task Force, and are among many important views that we are considering as we develop our recommendations on legalizing and regulating access to cannabis.”
Patient group perspectives
“We are grateful that the Task Force has taken the time to hear the direct voices of Canadian patients on these important issues,” said Janet Yale, President and CEO of The Arthritis Society. “Medical cannabis already helps many Canadians manage arthritis pain but we need to ensure that we have robust clinical evidence on medical efficacy and the appropriate form and dosage for treatment.”
“As we heard at the roundtable meeting, Canadians who use medical cannabis have valuable insights and experiences to guide the development of the new laws and regulations,” said Jonathan Zaid, Founder and Executive Director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. “We are pleased the Task Force listened to the patients and hope that the insights they heard will play a strong role in guiding the development of their recommendations.”
“We believe that hearing directly from patients who use cannabis for medical purposes will give the Task Force a vital and very useful perspective as they complete their important work,” said Dr. Lynne Belle-Isle, National Programs Manager, Canadian AIDS Society. “In the discussions about legalization of cannabis for personal use, we must ensure that the needs of patients who benefit from the use of cannabis to ease their symptoms are considered and integrated into the new regulatory framework.”