Patients say taxes are making medical marijuana unaffordable

Vincent Lefaive is a retired Durham Regional Police Service sergeant and medical cannabis patient. Photo/Jewl Studios

Vincent Lefaive says medical marijuana saved his life.

The retired Durham Regional Police Service sergeant was diagnosed with PTSD in 2016 after 28 years of responding to 911 calls. He used a prescription for medical marijuana to successfully treat the nightmares, anxiety and other symptoms that came along with the affliction.

But Lefaive is worried about the cost of the drug, which recently became more expensive with a new tax.

As of October 2018, when the federal government legalized recreational marijuana, all marijuana producers have been charged excise tax. Advocates say that tax has been passed along to medical cannabis patients, who were already paying sales tax for their prescriptions.

As medical marijuana is not covered under insurance plans, advocates say the taxes have made the drug’s cost prohibitive.

This prompted Lefaive and other patients to join a campaign — launched by non-profit Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana — asking the federal government to do away with all taxes on medical marijuana in its upcoming budget, which is expect to be unveiled this month. 

The CFAMM has argued that medical marijuana should be treated like other prescription drugs, which are not taxed at all. 

Lefaive said the costs are pushing patients, many of which are seniors, to choose between the drugs they need and other necessities.

“They are now deciding, I’ve got a medicine that works for me, and it’s working well, but do I have to cut my grocery budget? Do I have to cut my heating or hydro budget, or my clothing budget?” he said.

Advocates say the excise tax and sales taxes combined have increased the cost of medical cannabis by up to 25 per cent in some provinces.

Lefaive has already spent more than $1,000 in HST alone since he first started using medical marijuana.

“Even with my financial stability, I am worried that I cannot afford this,” he said.

Advocates warn that if the cost of medical marijuana is too prohibitive, it could also push patients to riskier alternatives that are covered under drug plans, such as opioids.

The federal government has said in the past that the tax framework is necessary to stop recreational users from abusing the medicinal prescription system.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Bill Morneau did not provide comment before deadline.