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Are Too Many Canadian Medical Marijuana Patients ‘Faking It’?

December 19, 2017
(Sasha_Suzi/iStock)
Are there a bunch of “fakers” in Canada’s medical marijuana program? And is it necessary to impose a tax on the program so that it dissuades more recreational cannabis users from joining the program? That’s what the Canadian government has suggested as it defends a new tax being imposed on the nation’s medical cannabis system.

Ottowa has announced that a 10% excise tax will be levied on producers of cannabis—regardless of whether the product is destined for medical patients or recreational consumers.

All cannabis sold through the medical program is subject to both federal sales tax and provincial sales tax. That’s not news to medical cannabis patients, as the tax has been in place since the current program’s implementation in 2013.

But now, the federal government has announced that as part of its legalization of non-medicinal cannabis, a 10% excise tax will be levied on producers of cannabis–regardless of whether the product is destined for medical patients or recreational consumers.

“Our government remains committed to maintaining a function medical marijuana system,” Liberal MP Bill Blair told The Globe and Mail in November. “At the same time, we do not want the taxation levels to be an incentive for people to utilize that system inappropriately, and we propose that the taxation levels for both medical and non-medical will be aligned.”

“We do not want the taxation levels to be an incentive for people to utilize that system inappropriately.”
Liberal MP Bill Blair

The government seemed to double down on the implication earlier this month, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared on Toronto’s Breakfast Television: “The fact is there are a lot of people who use the medical marijuana industry as a way of getting recreational marijuana,” said Trudeau.

Reaction to the clip was fierce. Mandy McKnight, whose son Liam uses high-CBD oil from Canada’s legal medical cannabis system, sardonically tweeted, “Let’s tax 99% of legitimate medical patients because there are a small number that are hiding behind ‘medical’ to save $1. Is that how we create policy in Canada?”

Related

How to Register as a Medical Cannabis Patient in Canada

McKnight’s comments pose an interesting question—just how many people are abusing the system to get their recreational fix?

Leafly spoke with Brian Kierans, a medical cannabis consultant who has worked in several medical cannabis-oriented doctor clinics across Toronto.

“I don’t think there are as many people abusing the system as they think.”
Brian Kierans, medical cannabis consultant

“I don’t think there are as many people abusing the system as they think,” Kierans told us.

Leafly wanted to know the percentage of patients that Kierans believes are accessing cannabis for purely recreational purpose, and his answer was similar to McKnight’s.

“I have no numbers on this. But in my gut, less than 1%. I’ve sat in a clinic for more than a year now. The people that want recreational cannabis, they see you are a doctor’s clinic, and leave….they excuse themselves comically quickly.”

Related

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“Some [clinics] have different packages that are more geared towards someone who just wants to get access quickly. But that usually isn’t an indicator that they are just trying to get recreational access—sometimes it’s someone who is sick who feels helpless and when given an opportunity wants to pursue it.”

Kierans says that one concern with the medical cannabis system is that patients may buy from their licensed producer once, and thereafter use the official, authority-deflecting bottle to hold cannabis purchased on the black market or from illegal dispensaries, a practice he called “bottle stuffing.”

All cannabis prescriptions are scrutinized by the provincial Colleges, with the careful oversight driving physicians to be extra careful with their medical-cannabis authorizations.

Some clinics even track the buying patterns of patients, via information provided by licensed producers. “Upon renewal, the clinic will ask [the patient] about buying patterns if they are concerned by [lack of purchases],” says Kierans, noting that the practice of “bottle-stuffing doesn’t necessarily mean the person is recreational-only consumer.

Most significantly, Kierans tells Leafly that all cannabis prescriptions are scrutinized by the provincial Colleges, with the careful oversight driving physicians to be extra careful with their medical-cannabis authorizations.

“There are standard narcotics evaluations for prescribing cannabis at all clinics—because all clinics are under great scrutiny by the College. They are prescribing what is legally a narcotic and they should all be following the steps to prescribe it.

Kierans says that that includes standard questionnaires that are meant to suss out patients who may be addicted to cannabis, including questions about the propensity to addiction.

For his part, Kierans does not agree with the government imposing a tax on medical cannabis. That’s a sentiment shared by more than 13,000 people who have sent emails to the government, as part of the #DontTaxMedicine initiative launched earlier this year by patient advocacy organization Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. With that number representing more than 5% of the 200,000 registered medical cannabis patients in the country, it’s something the government may have to re-address.

Harrison Jordan's Bio Image

Harrison Jordan

Harrison Jordan is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and enjoys reading and writing about the regulatory affairs of cannabis in Canada and around the world.

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  • Rg

    There’s no faking. Everyone has some stress or body pains, soreness that would be relieved with itt. No opioids needed

  • James Tripp

    I AM SO SICK OF PEOPLE DENYING MEDICAL USE OF CANNABIS!

    the reality is that instead of there being large number of Medicinal users actually using recreationally, the exact opposite is true in that there are thousands of so called ‘recreational users’ that are actually self medicating because it is so difficult and stigmatizing attempting to obtain a valid medicinal script for cannabis products.

  • Mark Stonebraker

    Too many? How and who defines that term? The issue here, at heart, is #1) cannabis is a far safer recreational substance than alcohol and #2) the longer we treat it like a schedule 1 drug, the longer a dishonest black market will thrive. FFS, so what if people wrongfully claim medical issues to get it? So what? Those people would get their hands on narcotics if cannabis were not available. Do we really think abusers will simply play nice in the absence of cannabis? I’d much rather have users self medicating with cannabis than other drugs they can obtain illegally.

    • Sumyungguy

      So What? Are you kidding? Are your standards in life so low that you don’t care that people give up, self medicate, and experience all the negative consequences that result from lying to yourself and others, taking drugs and / or alcohol, and then passing that on to others because of that apathy? That philosophy is EXACTLY why we have these problems to begin with.

      I would know. I have been there. I stopped, I grew up and I became a better person. And I pass THAT along.

      • Steve

        Sumdumbguy. cannabis isn’t a drug dip stick. ANYBODY who uses cannabis is self medicating whether they like it or not. please find me one ACTUAL fact or some evidence of cannabis ever doing any DIRECT harm to a body.

  • Excuse me

    The concern over people faking is simply an excuse to create more revenue from taxes.

  • Sovereign Sentience

    yeah I’ve been faking 40 years of chron’s , 20 of depression and anxiety caused by traditional bowel disease medicine, pronated back disks from working as a miner with bowel disease and severe anxiety from telling everybody that cannabis works better than trillions of dollars sucked up by pharma.
    and fucking begging for medicine I should be able to grow without hassle, since it was ‘declared’ dangerous to society and prohibited in 1923 without a single shred of scientific evidence and apparently a vote with citizens. so go ahead our ‘beloved’ government and just keep shafting us.

  • DavidML

    Recreation is not the antithesis of medicine – it’s a subset of medicine. Recreation is preventive medicine.

    • Steve

      yep, and cannabis is the best preventative medicine you can find. thank you GOD for giving us this plant hahah

    • Turner Kayston

      Amen

  • Stephanie Smith

    It’s horrible that a doctor’s prescription for pills are covered by insurance but a doctor’s prescription for cannabis is not. Sick people go without filling their doctor’s prescription for cannabis because some can not afford it. Some people fill only part of a prescription for cannabis because of the cost. And now the government wants to up that cost for those sick people. People who suffer more without this medication! This is plainly discriminating against medical marijuana patients.

    • Turner Kayston

      You bring up a very good point which reminds me of a video clip on YouTube in the House of Commons recently, about this same point:

      “Why is Marijuana subject to an excise tax while other prescriptions drugs are not; including opiates”

      And also, there too, by Don Davies: “The flawed policy in making Cannabis more expensive than incentivized opiods”

    • Norman Brook

      i was using prescribed hydromorphone for my pain ( 100% covered by medical) because i couldn’t afford enough marijuana to treat my pain. hydromorphone levels started getting dangerous to my health and my gp asked if i wanted to try fentynal patches. i didn’t even try that because it was more dangerous than hydromorphone and i found out veterans affairs canada would cover my medical marijuana for pain caused by an injury i sustained while i was in the canadian navy. that was over 6 years ago. i weeded myself off of opioids and only use medical marijuana for pain since becoming legal to use it. every licence renewal causes stress which aggravates my pain. the medical marijuana system the way it is set up was put in place by a team of psychopathic sadists and by adding a tax on tax for medication just reinforces that fact

  • TorontosaurusEx

    Another assault on the medicinal patients. We have endured previous abuses of the law from the former Harper government, having been found in contempt by the Supreme Court for unreasonable limitations of access, and now…”meet the new boss – same as the old boss” from our friends in high places.
    Bullsht. Served up Liberal flavoured.
    Same old crap and rhetorical chicanery claiming moralistic values-
    while they actively participate in stock market manipulating as private stakeholders in these LP’s.

    The people have to wake up to this tomfoolery. The surest way their plan will fail is if….WE COLLECTIVELY BOYCOTT THEIR CRAPPY PRODUCTS AND LET IT SIT ON THEIR SHELVES !!!
    NO SALES = NO TAX REVENUE…!
    Consider all of the craft micro-growers that have fought endless legal battles with these Government Ferengis that supposedly work for our best interests…clearly they do not; only for themselves and their cronies.
    Time to send a message to them :
    WE REJECT YOUR REALITY AND WE WILL SUBSTITUTE OUR OWN.

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it,
    to Bill Blair, Ann McLellan, Joel Smitherman et al.

    Hope you all try very hard to prosper from your carefully contrived nefarious plans…
    Something tells me you won’t.

    • Contrarian

      Exactly, we must find an effective means to gather our forces — all those involved in some way in the existing $5B underground industry, patients, recs, craft, bakers, artisans, suppliers activists — a force of 4-5 million strong can reshape and reclaim this people’s economy from the gov control freaks and crony authoritarians — it’s coming, stay strong!

    • Bob Mann

      Better yet, go through the process to grow your own and cut them right out of the picture.

    • Dante-the-cat

      There are craft licences available for the smaller shops I thought.

  • Ross Frisken

    Say Sayonara to medical cannabis if they excise tax it. There will be no logical reason for it to exist whatsoever. If people are “self medicating” now without a card/ prescription they will just move over to the legal medicine when it comes available….. or they will continue to buy from their current supplier. If there is no logical reason to have a card/prescription most medical users with just say screw it when they have to go back for their renewal. If the government really believes that there is that many “fakers” out there then maybe they should “do” something about that rather than just add a tax to “fix” the problem. Seems there is a lot of people at the top of this that have their heads somewhere where the sun does not shine…. 😉

    • Steve

      really the only benefit of medical will be being able to grow. i have a 5/g a day script so that will allow me to grow 25 plants

      • Ross Frisken

        Well there you go….thanks for the post as I did not think of that…. 🙂 I guess the other thing may well be the high CBD strains that you know will not be “popular” with the rec crowd and they may well be only available through a medical LP.

        • Steve

          I don’t think so, there are lots of people growing high CBD low THC strains already. the government will never have complete control, they will never realize how badly they are screwing up, by trying to take over an industry they have oppressed for almost a century and still criminating people who want to make an extra dollar from it.

  • Wayne Phillips

    Taxing medical cannabis is not only discriminatory – actually, discrimination isn’t anything new concerning Health Canada’s long-standing policy regarding the medical cannabis portfolio (considering there have been 3 court ordered programs in 20 years). Taxing medical cannabis is another example of government corruption and greed demonstrated under the colour of law. From the manufacturing of a social problem around cannabis (in 1923) to the current extortion and exploitation of both medical cannabis users and the general Canadian public, it stinks. Under C-45, the division and transition of a sanctioned medical consortium to accommodate the legalization of personal recreational use of cannabis will further the ongoing exploitation of medical cannabis via taxation. It not only sends the message that profiteering from cannabis for medical purposes is acceptable, it perpetuates the discrimination of all those that use cannabis.

    Blair’s implication that taxing medical cannabis will prevent people from utilizing the system inappropriately is patented absurd. Incentives for people to utilize that system inappropriately began when government opted to run a court-ordered medical cannabis program like an extortion racket being fronted by a sanctioned medical cannabis cabal* rather than a medical program meant to benefit Canadians. This is something to keep in mind every time policymakers behave as though the federal government is inventing cannabis rather than legalizing it.

  • grewsy

    This is bad. One clinic administrator says there’s no ACMPR abuse? This is well-intentioned but bad journalism.

  • Turner Kayston

    What about medical alcohol usage? A poison of global epidemic proportionals, used as a hard drug, but far more harmful – or rather, recreational use only, but without such scrutiny…

    One is a drug, while the other one is a herb. One causes cancers, while the other cures some of them, but needs a sin tax.

    That’s sickening.

    • Excuse me

      Medical alcohol usage? Isn’t that, for the most part, an oxymoron? Sure, small amounts of wine are reported to be the single alcoholic concoction that does not increase cancer risk. A 1999 study in The American Journal for Public Health concluded that regular intake of all alcoholic drinks is associated with a lower risk of Coronary Heart Disease, but not all-cause mortality, than occasional drinking. The all-cause mortality is the spoiler.

      • Turner Kayston

        Medical alcohol usage, I was just being sarcastic, even though it was used that way and other ways, historically.

        I drink some wines on occasion myself, so I’m not against alcohol if it doesn’t cause, non-subjective harms. 😉

        As for that 1999 study, who funded that, back then? I recall reading something about that somewhere, that I think it was sponsored by the alcohol industry…

        It was either by the UK’s ex-government, drugs adviser, Neuropsychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt’s in his book, “drugs without the hot air” or in one of his science lectures.

        If you look at his site or their lancet report, alcohol even tops heroin in terms of overall harm, but don’t take my word for it, it’s a public report…

        His recommendations are always at most, a glass of wine with three straws and three friends.

        To quote page 97 of his book:

        “There is no such thing as a safe level of alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a toxin that kills cells and organisms, which is why we use it to preserve food and sterilise needles. Acetaldehyde, produced when the body breaks down alcohol, is even more toxic, and any food or drink contaminated with the amount of acetaldehyde that a unit of alcohol produces would immediately be banned as having an unacceptable health risk.”

        Acetaldehyde (a close relative of formaldehyde) is a poisonous byproduct of alcohol metabolism and is more toxic than alcohol itself.

        • Excuse me

          Well, I am wondering if you are arguing with my post, or the study presented, since David Nutt’s work and the study do not really clash. As I mentioned, while there was some benefit regarding light alcohol use and CHD, overall mortality still makes alcohol more dangerous than Nutt’s big three: Cannabis, LSD, and Ecstasy. (MDMA).
          By the way, as far as metabolism of acetylaldehyde, it is naturally present in some food products, like coffee, apples and bananas, as well as a byproduct of fermentation in yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
          These fermented foods are practically ubiquitous around the globe, and because of their positive effects on GI flora, have been considered healthy by modern researchers.
          For light drinkers, the aldehyde generated is processed in the liver, by the Cytochrome 450 pathway. As you can imagine, heavy use overloads the pathway–thus the toxicity, which is trying to process the water soluble toxins from what we eat and drink, and we all know the hepatotoxic result.
          Some people’s genetics make poorer metabolizers than others. The so-called French paradox of wine and the “Mediterranean Diet” has been thought to be due more to the rest of the diet–olive oil and vegetables, and possibly more exercise, than the wine alone.
          As for extra safety for vinophiles, regular supplementation with Milk Thistle Extract is hepato-protective. Do they allow the public to buy herbal products like that in Great Britain?

  • tizyanni

    No concern at this point. The concern comes when the prescriptions are paid for by the public system like Fair PharmaCare plan in BC. I don’t want my taxes paying for some chronic hustler that’s getting his script for free and reselling it. Like what happens with pain pills..The trouble with these private cannabis clinics is you can have glaucoma in your 3rd eye and a skype doctor will give you a script..lol

    • Turner Kayston

      glaucoma in your 3rd eye, lol, that’s a funny one.

      But what’s so wrong with dilating your cognitive and augmenting your state of consciousness, by opening the doors of perception?

      • tizyanni

        Nothing.. I’m all for it! Happy holidays!

        • Turner Kayston

          That was just a rhetorical question… 😉

          I still love your ‘3rd eye’ line though, hilarious. I’ll have to quote that one some time.

  • Bob Carter

    This is a very discriminatory statement, if the writer of this post had to Live with illnesses such as Cancer, Seizures, Fibromyaliga, and a thousand more of them, maybe he would think twice about commenting on something they no nothing about, KEEP YOUR BIG IGNORANT MOUTH SHUT !!!

  • Penny

    This is really disheartening to read. If the number is really less than 1%, then it seems foolish to try and punish the vast majority for that. In any system, there’s going to be at least a marginal amount of abuse of the systems/problems. What has made them believe that it’s finally gotten to the point where they need to do something about it? What was the tipping point? We’re discussing this here: https://www.greenapple.md/forums/laws-legalization/mmj-canada/

  • mindom2004

    ABSOLUTELY!!! After the 1st of 3 major invasive surgeries in 2007, 1st almost killed me and the last left me in palliative care. OF COURSE cannabis cookies NEVER saved my life after losing 50 pounds because pain ROBS one of all needs and wants!!!   OF COURSE it never saved me from nauseousness, a multitude of emotion triggers, extreme chronic pain and more, all that relief was just in my head along with dropping I believe 3 pharmaceutical drugs. I don’t give 2 fucks about CURRENT scientific evidence BUT I do care when someone tells me how it saved or helped them or children and pets included! APOLOGIES but this question really rubs me the wrong way for I would not be here if not for “cannabis.”

  • krusht2

    Harrison Jordan – I find it particularly distasteful that you permit yourself to put your name to such ugly propaganda & falsehoods! Shame on you for casting further shame on your shameless profession! You ought nought attempt journalism – stick with your training – tell lies with your licensed permission, not under the cover of “Journalism”!

  • Bramael gnome

    How Many fake the need for opiates and have prescriptions? Where’s the tax to regulate those issues?

    Opiates
    ✔ can be bought in the black market.
    ✔ fake users and abusers.

    The entire medical system is corrupt to a greater degree.

    So why do we need this tax?
    The delusion is that it can be controlled, the corruption. The reality is It’s ever present.

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  • hab13

    YEAH I am finally a 1%er.
    Seriously if there is 200,000 mmj patients in Canada and 1% are working the system to me not really worth talking about.
    Look at income tax, workers comp, people using multiple doctors to get opiods definitively a lot more abusing that than accessing something that will be legal soon.
    I have been a patient for a few years and I find that my medical cannabis use has evolved since I started, yes it relieves my back pain which was my original concern but now I have found it benefits many other parts of my body/life. I have increased energy and less pain so I exercise more and lost weight, losing weight has helped my blood sugars and has greatly improved overall health my last blood tests were all normal for the first time in 20+ years. I drink way less alcohol, sleep a lot better, have less aches and pains and my stress has also greatly been reduced and I have learned to relax more. My mind has gone through some changes too and I feel I have better analytical skills being better able to look at the big picture of problems/issues that come up.
    I think that the medical cannabis with cbd could be helpful for overall heath for older people 50+ and not just for specific ailments.and we will see that area explored as its legalized.

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  • Robert Gerus

    I don’t buy my shit from Trudope, I heard that at $15 a gram it doesn’t do the trick, I have a dealer that I have been dealing with for a very long time even before probation it was legal, ask me if I care, Trudope can go jump over a shot cliff for all I care I am a 420 smoker and yes there are a lot of fakers on the CBD medical marijuana. I tried it once and it didn’t work for me I am a true blue THC smoker. but as of May- June 2016 haven’t smoked a joint. It don’t bother me, it’s not addictive like they want you to believe and Trudope’s $15 a gram can shove it. I can still get it for $6 bucks a gram and it’s the good kind. THC 100% not the shit the government sells.