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Insuring your health

November 12, 2018

Is medical cannabis covered by your workplace benefits?

Before you submit a claim for medical cannabis, here are a few things you should know.

The legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada has brought the plant into the limelight. If you take cannabis for medical purposes, you may be wondering if you can claim it as a medical expense on your tax return, or if your workplace benefits plan will help pay for it. But before submitting a claim, here are few things you should understand:

Medical cannabis vs. recreational cannabis

Cannabis can be used for either medical or recreational purposes. The difference is really in the use. When we talk about medical cannabis, it’s in reference to cannabis being used to alleviate symptoms of various health conditions and diseases under the guidance of a physician and with the right authorization. Recreational cannabis, however, is not used to serve any medical purpose.  

That said, medical cannabis often contains a higher concentration of cannabidiol (CBD), which generally doesn’t produce the euphoric “high” feeling associated with taking cannabis recreationally. This “high” is produced by another chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Patients may be able to benefit from the medicinal qualities of cannabis by using a cannabis strain that has a higher CBD concentration and a lower amount of THC.

Is medical cannabis right for you?

To start, visit your doctor and talk about whether medical cannabis is an option for your treatment. If your doctor decides that cannabis may help you, they can provide you with a medical authorization, in compliance with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).

Once you have authorization, you can register with a Health Canada-licensed producer of medical cannabis. You can purchase medical cannabis in various forms, such as fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis oil, extracts and seeds.

If you’d prefer, you can also grow it yourself or designate someone else to grow it for you. In both instances, you or your producer will need to be certified by Health Canada to comply with ACMPR.

Claiming cannabis as a medical expense

Cannabis is an eligible medical expense under Revenue Canada’s Medical Expense Tax Credit. So you can claim expenses related to medical cannabis on your tax return, as long as you have  receipts from an approved Health Canada-licensed producer and medical authorization to back up your claim.  

Does your benefits plan cover medical cannabis?

You could also be eligible for coverage under your workplace benefits plan. Earlier this year, Sun Life added an option for medical cannabis coverage through its group benefits plans. Employers with group benefits plans insured or administered by Sun Life have the option to add medical cannabis to their plans. If your employer has added this coverage, you may be able to recover the cost of your medical cannabis, if you have one of the health conditions for which Sun Life approves coverage.

What health conditions are eligible for medical cannabis coverage?

Research into the medical benefits of cannabis is ongoing. Cannabis is not the only or best treatment option for a wide variety of illnesses, but clinical research has shown it can benefit people suffering from certain conditions.

Currently, the coverage offered by Sun Life is only available for conditions where there’s sufficient clinical evidence to support its use:

  • severe pain with cancer, or nausea and vomiting with cancer treatments
  • spasticity or neuropathic pain, with multiple sclerosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis, when all other standard treatments have failed
  • anorexia or neuropathic pain, with HIV/AIDS
  • palliative care

Find out more about medical cannabis coverage

To find out whether your workplace benefits cover medical cannabis, contact your HR department. If you know your plan is with Sun Life, you can contact the Customer Care Centre at 1-800-361-6212, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Please have your coverage card ready.

If you’re an employer or small-business owner looking for more information about adding medical cannabis to your group benefits plan, take a look at Sun Life’s Bright Paper or contact your Sun Life Financial Group Benefits representative.

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