The federal Cannabis Act came into effect October 17, 2018. It made Canada the second country in the world to formally legalize the cultivation, possession, acquisition and consumption of cannabis and its by-products for medical and recreational use. As a result, various organizations and government departments started making changes to their policies and implementing those changes accordingly. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s (WSIB) new policy on medical cannabis came into effect on March 1, 2019. This WSIB Policy No. 17-01-10, “Cannabis for Medical Purposes” identifies a list of requirements to assess eligibility for medical cannabis. Still, there are many employers and employees who are not aware of the policy, how it applies and who qualifies to receive medical cannabis. Here is a guide by WSIB lawyers to explain what this policy is all about.
The New WSIB Policy on Medical Cannabis: What It Is All About
When possession and consumption of cannabis was illegal in Canada, obviously insurance plans did not cover it. But with changes the in law, employers need to be aware that cannabis is a treatment option for insurers. That said, though the WSIB did reimburse claimants for medical cannabis costs before this new policy was implemented, the eligibility of workers injured at their workplace was determined on a case-by-case basis. With the new operational policy, a comprehensive decision-making framework has come into effect. It also establishes criteria to qualify for entitlement and the conditions in which cannabis can be used therapeutically. Let’s look at this in detail.
Designated Conditions Where Medical Cannabis Use Is Recognized by WSIB
A worker injured on the job must have one of the five conditions mentioned below to be treated with medical marijuana.
- Neuropathic pain (for example, pain caused by a traumatic nerve injury)
- Nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
- Spasticity resulting from a spinal cord injury
- Loss of appetite associated with HIV or AIDS
- Pain and other symptoms experienced in a palliative setting
Apart from the above five conditions, more conditions can be qualified under the policy and approved as scientific research continues to progress.
When a Worker with a Workplace Injury Is Entitled to Medical Cannabis Coverage
A worker injured in the workplace is entitled to medical cannabis only if they meet the following criteria:
- The worker has one of the five designated conditions
- The worker has been authorized by the designated health professional to treat the designated condition with medical cannabis
- The worker has exhausted conventional treatments for their diagnosed condition
- An appropriate clinical assessment of the worker has been conducted
- The therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis treatment outweigh the risks
- The worker has a valid document or a written order for medical cannabis
- The dose and route of administration authorized are appropriate for the worker
According to the WSIB’s new policy, medical cannabis or cannabis for medical purpose means dried cannabis, cannabis oil or any other lawful class of cannabis. It does not include cannabis plant, cannabis seeds or pharmaceutical cannabinoids.
When the WSIB Will Pay for the Costs of Medical Cannabis
The WSIB’s criteria for payment of cannabis for medicinal purpose are:
- The applicable entitlement criteria have been met and entitlement is allowed
- The approved route of administration is vapourizing, not smoking (the WSIB will also cover the reasonable cost of a vapourizer; replacement of vapourizers is generally limited to once every two years)
- The medical cannabis is obtained from a hospital or a license holder with whom the worker is registered as a client
- The invoices or accounts from the hospital or license holder is submitted to the WSIB
- The invoices or accounts are in alignment with the authorization in the medical document or written order
When the WSIB Will Not Approve Coverage for Medical Cannabis
The new policy is not all roses. It also covers risks involved with cannabis use. The WSIB will not approve coverage where the risks of cannabis use outweigh the benefits. These circumstances include:
- The worker is under the age of 25
- The worker has a current or past substance use disorder
- The worker has a current or past cannabis use disorder
- The worker has a personal or strong family history of psychosis
- The worker is pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding
- The worker has severe liver or kidney disease, or
- The worker has cardiovascular disease
DID YOU KNOW?
Medical cannabis is the only drug for which the WSIB has established an operational policy.
The Bottom Line
After the decriminalization of cannabis possession and use under the Cannabis Act in October 2018, the introduction of this operational policy by WSIB has heightened the awareness of marijuana use in the general public. The policy provides a new perspective on what should be considered medically appropriate treatment using cannabis. With time, coverage for medical cannabis will also be implemented by Canadian insurance providers. It is not only a favourable step forward for workers injured on the job but also for WSIB lawyers fighting for those workers’ rights to get them their accident benefits.
Hopefully, this guide to the new policy on Cannabis for Medical Purposes has helped you understand what this change is all about. For more detailed insights, consult a WSIB lawyer.