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S3E6 - Tax Grab

Did you know medical cannabis is taxed?  That is weirder than you might think.  All other blood pressure pills, diabetes pills and depression pills that go through a pharmacy are not taxed.  Yet medical cannabis, prescribed by a doctor or other health care professional is taxed.  Ashleigh Brown (@Ashleigh02112447is a medical cannabis patient, founder of the self help cannabis group SheCann (@shecannabis) and Community Manager and Patient Liaison at Strainprint.  She is also an uber cannabis patient advocate.  Listen to Ashleigh talk about how taxes increase her struggles to afford medicinal cannabis and increase the struggles of other patients.


This Episode is sponsored by Strain Print

Thursday, 02 May 2019 08:15

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Marc Clement

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Episode Transcript

Ashleigh:  Yes thank you for having me back. I always love chatting with you guys and I am a longtime listener of the program so I am kinda of a super fan. I am a medical cannabis patient living in Winnipeg Manitoba and I do a few things I wear a few hats. I'm a mother to two and a stepmother to three. But in the advocacy world I am the founder of a group called SheCann which is a medical cannabis community geared towards women who are seeking information and resources and support for using medical cannabis specific to Canadians for now. I am also the Community Manager and Patient Liaison for a wonderful patient led company called Strainprint Technologies who I know is also a big fan of yours and a sponsor. So I'm fortunate to work with them in the industry and to to manage their community their online Strainprint community and to bring resources to to the world of data as well.

Trevor:  No thank you and yeah well we'll do a couple of shouts out to SheCann and Strainprint.  So SheCann we are big fans of SheCann. I'm always amazed the incredible stuff that the SheCann community comes up with. They are are very bright people with lots of interesting questions there. Yeah it's always fun every time we go on there. And yeah the Strainprint community we've been really enjoying that too so no those have been those are great groups we recommend them to anybody. So what we brought you on here specifically for one sort of facet of your knowledge. Today we want to talk about cannabis and taxes specifically medicinal cannabis and taxes. So just to let the listeners know a little bit now you might not realize so if you went and bought a like an antibiotic or blood pressure pill at a pharmacy so I would dispense it to you and you wouldn't end up paying tax on that. That's just kind of the way it works. But things are different in the medical cannabis world aren't they Ashleigh.

Ashleigh:  Unfortunately you are 100 percent correct in the world of medical cannabis. Our medicine is taxed twice. So not only do we pay provincial and provincial taxes and GST we also pay a newly introduced introduced excise tax of 10 percent.

Trevor:  Wow that's that's a lot of extra money on medicine.   Now what we'll talk about some of the the groups and that you've been involved with but in all the the cannabis advocacy.  Has anyone given us a good reason why they've decided to tax medical cannabis when they wouldn't tax blood pressure or pain pill that went through a pharmacy.

Ashleigh:  Well I in my understanding and the rationale that the government has given us around this issue both myself and organisations involved in the cause as well as other patients and advocates in the space who are writing letters to their MP's and who are asking the questions and setting up meetings with politicians and influencers is that they wanted to deter people from abusing the medical system. So they believe by taxing both recreational and medical cannabis the same they would keep people from abusing the system. So that's the reason that we've been given for their being an excise tax imposed is to discourage abuse of the medical system.

Trevor:  Okay we'll let listeners decide if that was a good idea or not. At least it's a reason and because you talk to so many patients in this space. Can you give our listeners an idea about whatever numbers you might have. You know how many medical patients we have in Canada or how much they spend or or even just how how much to the bottom line does it affect the bottom line having these taxes on on what medication they need every month.

Ashleigh:  Absolutely. So first I'd like to add an addendum to the comment that the government has made around access and an abuse of the medical system. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that accessing medical cannabis for most Canadians is still a really difficult and challenging thing because of stigma and because of a lack of education for most healthcare practitioners. So in my mind as a patient and as an advocate and the widely held view is that that is not a reason. And it is a very flawed and very dangerous reason to penalize people with medical cannabis. I just wanted to add that part just so I can kind of shed some light on how that actually plays out which is medical cannabis is not always easy to access certainly not through traditional channels in the way that we understand it. Right now we have over 480,000 Canadians who are accessing cannabis for medical purposes in this country. So for those 480,000 Canadians who are now paying tax on their medicine it can look you know a lot of different ways. And I can speak a little bit to numbers through my own personal experience because I think that's that's the best way to be to be true to how things have gone.

Trevor:  Thanks, that would be great.

Ashleigh:   Yeah I no I have no problem sharing this but I think it's really important people people have a really good idea of just how this impacts people. It's one thing to talk about it as a tax or an abstract but to talk dollars and cents is is important. So for myself I have been on disability as a result of chronic seizures for years and thankfully I'm able to work again as a result of medical cannabis. But prior to this in 2017 6000 of the eighteen thousand dollars in disability benefits I was receiving went to the cost of medical cannabis. So a full third of my income went to pay for this medicine that is is keeping me well enough and is managing so my symptoms and seizures because of the taxes this year I'm likely to pay between 1400 and 2000 dollars out of pocket. On top of those cannabis costs.

Trevor:  Wow. That's a lot.

Ashleigh:  So yeah it is absolutely a lot. So one of the unintended consequences of legalization is that my medicine which was also already unaffordable because it is not usually covered by insurance plans it's not covered by pharmacare at a provincial or federal level or any programs like that. This medicine is now put further out of reach for me by the fact that I am being charged taxes and those taxes are usually only traditionally applied to things that are considered harmful not medicine things like tobacco gasoline and alcohol have an excise tax. It's considered the term is sin tax and our medicine is being taxed with a sin tax on top of the existing taxes we're paying.

Trevor: Wow that's. Yes. So that's a significant problem.  No I don't know some of the things I've been reading some of the government officials.  Have said things like well you know the exemption on medicine only applies to things prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist. Which is interesting and true with medical cannabis but sounds like they're going through loopholes and you know it's not allowed to go through pharmacies. But yeah no it's a big problem. And I'm guessing most of our recreational users hadn't even thought about the fact that people are getting taxed on their medicine for something who you know they they literally need everyday to get on with their lives. Now I know you've been really involved with advocacy and the and the don't tax our medicine movement. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the groups you've been involved with.

Ashleigh:  We're really fortunate in this country to have some really strong very socially responsible supporters both in the not for profit sector in groups like Canadians for fair access to medical marijuana. They're an excellent group that was founded I guess about five years ago now by Jonathan Zaid and they have led very strongly with the don't tax medicine campaign. The campaign is still ongoing as always. And they do encourage people to access the website at don't text medicine dot ca so that they can send a letter to their elected officials. It's a really simple process. It allows you to explain and add your own personal details to the automated letter as well. And it will it will send it right to the MP in your riding as well. So that's been a really powerful thing. There were 7000 letters sent. So CFAMM has really led the fight. What we've been really pleased as patients to see is that there has been support from the industry so most recently during the most brisk kind of round of lobbying on this subject a lot of very passionate advocates stepped forward and they were supported by Aurora especially so Aurora unveiled a tax ticker that actually shows how much tax medical cannabis patients have paid since 2014. And they believe it's around 125 million dollars right now.

Trevor:  Holy Smokes.

Ashleigh:  So Aurora. Yeah Aurora has given us a very visual way to explain to people the actual cost of taxing you know vulnerable individuals who are already struggling to pay for their medicine and to have a quality of life.

Trevor:  And did I read somewhere that so I'm not trying to put you or the licensed producers on the spot but have some of the license producers said that they would consider kind of rebating the taxes directly from their pocket to patients or did I read that right.

Ashleigh:  Well what we did see just leading up to legalization as advocates we really started to ask the question Were there plans in place to absorb the excise tax. And quite a few license producers did step forward and say that for the time being they were going to absorb the excise tax so that patients weren't being unfairly taxed so medical cannabis in that way would remain more affordable. We certainly have seen some licensed producers. You know stay true to that and others are doing that but they are also as well lobbying for the tax to be removed period because they understand that you know it's only a short term solution really for companies to absorb a tax otherwise at some point prices are going to go up. So that really doesn't solve the problem if we can't get the government to see this for what it is which is medicine and we in Canada we don't tax medicine.

Trevor:  No I agree. That's what I do every day in the pharmacy and no the prescription medication is is not taxed. So yeah that's a big problem that again I'm sure a lot of people haven't heard of before so other than the going to see if I got this right. Don't tax medicine dot ca.

Ashleigh:  That's correct.

Trevor:  So other than going there and signing up which I encourage all of our listeners to do. If someone's just learning about this problem now where else can we send them if they want to make make their voice heard and say that you know this isn't fair. Please do something about this.

Ashleigh:  Well I think there's a few different routes they can take and I always encourage people to do whatever they feel they can and are comfortable doing because advocacy looks a lot of different ways but even small things can yield really big benefits when we stand united on an issue. So some of the options people have are they can approach and meet with their MPs or elected officials in person. And I'd remind everybody that it is an election year. So this is something that's personally impacting your family. It's good to sit down and have a face to face conversation and put the face of medical cannabis in front of your politicians just so that it's really creating empathy and understanding of the impact of this issue of unfair taxation. If it's not something you're able or comfortable doing I encourage you to join the Strainprint Community where we have a CFAMM forum and we really stay on top of everything that they are doing leading the fight in the don't tax medicine front and advocating for patients as a whole. So that's a great way that you can keep on top of things you can learn more reaching out to see them directly is also a great option. And you know really engaging your elected officials it's important. I think a lot of this isn't about people trying to unfairly punished patients. I think it is the lack of education and understanding of the ways in which real patients use cannabis as medicine. And I think that once we can really you know take that take that view further and and have people see the faces and hear the stories of the people that are impacted by this. That's how things change I think. You know I think you've even mentioned this that a lot of people don't even know medical cannabis is taxed and they also often assume it's covered by insurance. So we have a ways to go in explaining first of all that that isn't unfortunately the case right now and getting that changed as well and it all comes into play. And I think that certainly a lot of patients and CFAMM especially and myself do think that you know having pharmacists and health care providers involved in the dispensing of this as a medication is also a really good way to bridge that gap of education and further legitimize it as medicine too.

Trevor:  Thank you very much. I think we've got lots for our listeners to think of. So while you on the phone we'll just go down a small rabbit hole. The Strainprint Community. I'm less familiar with it than I am with SheCann.  SheCann is still up and running and we've been on like they had been on that lots and talked to lots of interesting people. Let's just do a small plug for what you are doing with the Strainprint Community and what sort of things are going on in there.

Ashleigh:  Sure.  Let's let's dive into that rabbit hole it's a really fun and exciting one. So the Strainprint Community was launched just a few months ago actually right before legalization on October 16th. In the Strainprint Community. It is an online forum that is on a secure third party platform so you can go there you can register be yourself. You can be anonymous if you like. It really has served as a tool. We wanted a space for people to be able to learn engage and support each other that felt like a compassionate informed environment. So we've worked really hard at getting some great content and information for people who are just learning about cannabis who are maybe curious. It's open to anyone you know around the world and you know we really find that people are having conversations but also what they want to do is share their points of view. So there are opportunities even within the Strainprint Community to participate in some of this information and to have your voice heard. Right now we've introduced a new function that allows people to answer surveys so they can share their opinions and perspectives on things like how they're using medicine cannabis and parenting cannabis and employment and we'll continue to offer those opportunities to you know to engage with each other and also with the data. The beautiful part of the Strainprint Community is that we were offering people a platform that really ties back to a lot of the data that they may have heard about or experienced firsthand in the app. So maybe they're tracking their sessions or you know they just really like the idea of learning about what other people are using the Strainprint Communities a real live place to have that dialogue. So it's been a really great opportunity for us to to bring together people from all walks of life. And you know we have some great great allies and ambassadors that will be introducing people to over the next few months so they can meet more of the as we call them kind people that really sustain and inform and educate the Strainprint Community in the Strainprint ecosystem.

Trevor:  And it's not just a lack of a better word people from the cannabis public him there. Like I noticed recently I was reading in a wonderful article on different terpenes you seemed to have some some connections to people you know like to write informed articles about different cannabis related topics in the Strainprint Community as well don't you.

Ashleigh:  Yes we love our data nerds. So whenever we can get the best emerging reliable and fact based information out to people in ways that you know make sense to them we want to do that too. So a lot of our focus has been on reaching out to people like the author Kurt Robbins who's very popular in the US in getting him to do an entire terpene series for us so we introduce a different terpene you know kind of bi-weekly and you know we also talk about cannabis for conditions and we encourage our members to tell us what they'd like to see written about because we do have some talented and really compassionate you know subject matter experts that we can drawn on and we want to bring that information to people in a way that feels feels easy and makes the journey feel less lonely too because it certainly can be very overwhelming.

Trevor:  Again yeah we we think this is a great idea and we're we're glad that you're involved with the community. I'm sure you're bringing the same touch to it that you brought to SheCann. So I think we've covered most of the tax stuff and I'm glad we got some time to talk about the Strainprint Community anything that I've missed this time around. Ashleigh anything else that we should we should let listeners know taxes cannabis or otherwise.

Ashleigh:  Well one thing I will say that doesn't get talked about a lot is obviously you know when I founded the SheCann community alongside other women you know in 2017 I wasn't aware of you know how far reaching some of these issues like taxation really can be until you know I saw the way they were impacting thousands of members. And one of the most startling facts that that came out of this entire don't tax medicine campaign within the SheCann community specifically was around what impact this tax or the affordability issue is having on patients ability to get what they need. These are women who are often caregivers they're mothers are taking care of loved ones or their aging parents. You know they have families they have you know they have large extended groups that they are caring for and they will go without. And 90 percent of SheCann patients either under dose or go without their medication due to affordability.

Trevor:  Wow 90 percent. Wow.

Ashleigh:  90 percent 90 percent of the SheCann community will go without or under dose and that includes myself. And you know as a mother as a partner as a loved one as a caregiver I have a lot of responsibilities financially and the cannabis is very expensive. And I don't go without. I'm very fortunate that way but I certainly could be taking a higher dose. It's just not always financially realistic. So it's I think it's really important for people to know that you know decisions that are made like this at a policy level impact people on a personal level impact families and individuals in ways that we really don't understand. So when those 90 percent of our members are going without the dose they need for their medication it's not allowing them to live their lives or have the quality of life they deserve to be the employee or the partner or the friend or the parent that they could be. Should they be able to have fair and equitable access so medical cannabis and taxation are really not as cut and dry you know as as they may seem when they're you know a line item in the federal budget. They're really about you know the people and the families that are being affected by these things.

Trevor: As always Ashleigh that was that was a great talk we'll we'll have you on anytime. Thank you very much for your time. And I'll just get you to hold the line for a second while Rene make sure everything is recording properly.