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Peter Bocking

The long-awaited legalization date for recreational marijuana is here. While the legalization did happen overnight, the impact that this legislation will have on employee benefits is still evolving. We face differing predictions, lots of speculation and a multitude of unknowns, but here are answers to some of the common questions we receive:

What exactly is included in the Cannabis Act?

The Cannabis Act is a federal legislation that will make the use of recreational marijuana legal across Canada – medical marijuana has been legal since 2001. In Ontario, adults of legal age in their province of residence can purchase up to 30 grams of dried cannabis and grow up to 4 marijuana plants at their legal residence. However, it’s important to point out that these parameters may vary from province-to-province.

Can my employees claim their medical marijuana under the prescription drug portion of our plan?    

At this time, no. Health Canada has yet to issue a drug identification number (DIN for short) for marijuana. In simple terms – drugs without a DIN number cannot be processed through the prescription drug portion of your benefits plan as they are not a part of a drug formulary.

If we wanted to include medical marijuana under our group benefits plan, what are our options?

The Canada Revenue Agency does classify this as an approved medical expense for tax purposes so solutions such as Cost Plus or Health Spending Accounts are an option. This would allow for reimbursement of the employee while giving the employer the ability to set a maximum budget for this type of expense.  Some insurers are also developing new categories within their offerings specifically to address this new form of employee claim. It’s best to consult your employee benefits expert to find the solution that works best for your company.

If my employee is suffering from substance abuse and addiction to marijuana, how can my benefits program help them?

Traditionally, services covered under your employee assistance program (EAP) will include counselling services for things like an addiction. If you have an EAP available as a part of your overall compensation package, now would be a great time to remind all staff that this valuable program and its service offerings.

Can my employees consume medical and/or recreational marijuana in the workplace?

For recreational purposes, the simple answer is that employers are not obligated to allow their employee to use recreational cannabis in the workplace. In fact, we’ve seen many companies append their policies and procedures to have more clearly defined language surrounding the use of both recreational and medical marijuana at work or outside of work hours. On the medical marijuana side, there may be more regulated accommodations but before permitting or banning the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, we strongly recommend that you consult legal counsel and HR professionals to ensure you are working within the confines of the law and labour regulations.

Here at HMA, we’re keeping our finger tightly on the pulse so that we’re educated, armed with answers where available and ready to react as this topic develops.

Peter Bocking

Peter worked as a Financial Advisor for a few years before joining HMA 7 years ago. He has grown into the capacity of a true Benefits Consultant in that time, and now proudly owns the firm along with his Business Partner, Barry. They have 19 amazing, specialized staff and they’re growing steadily as the specialists to turn to with over 30 years in the Benefits industry. He is a Group Benefits Associate (GBA) and is working on completing his Compensation Management Specialist (CMS). Peter loves spending time with his family. They give back to the community they live and work in. He is a proud member of Rotary and he is heavily involved with various other charitable and not-for-profit efforts. If you can’t find him around town, he’s probably singin’ a few tunes with guitar in hand.
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