Liberal MPs vote to maintain excise tax on medical cannabis despite pushback from patients

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      Liberal members of the finance committee have voted against an amendment that could have led to the exemption of medical cannabis from Bill C-74’s proposed excise tax.

      "Perhaps 4,000 or more Canadians have written to the members of this committee to oppose this new system, this tax regime on cannabis for medical purposes," said MP Pierre Luc Dusseault of the NDP in the House of Commons yesterday (May 22), as the committee conducted a clause-by-clause review of the bill.

      "It will have a very negative effect on current users because it's a system that is already in place. More than 260,000 people are using cannabis for medical purposes, and they have openly criticized this new tax on their medication." 

      Dusseault first proposed that the bill be amended so that the definition of medical cannabis be expanded to include medical cannabis products that do not have a drug identification number. If passed, he hoped that amendment would set the stage for a second that would have seen members vote on whether or not medical cannabis should be exempted from the excise tax.

      "[The tax] is okay for cannabis destined for recreational purposes, but here we are speaking about cannabis for medical purposes," Dusseault said in his address to the house. 

      "We have heard from many civil societies, and several colleagues around the table would like to see a tax exemption for medical purposes."

      In her attempt to refute his points, Liberal MP Jennifer O'Connell said that the excise tax would not apply to cannabis-based products with a DIN. (Currently, just three drugs containing synthetic cannabinoids have been issued DINs: Nabilone, Cesamet, and Sativex.) 

      "The excise duty does not apply to products that have DIN numbers, or that are prescribed by a physician," she said. "I think that's an important clarification, because, for example, under the current system, doctors provide authorization, not a prescription for medical cannabis."

      O'Connell added that going through the "rigorous process" required for a prescription drug to receive a DIN number is something that Canadians have come to expect, and noted that if other cannabis products would one day receive DIN numbers, the legislation to exempt such products from the tax would already be in place. 

      "I'm happy that there's a path to get there, but it's up to those cannabis producers to go through the rigorous testing all Canadians would expect,” she said.

      The amendment was defeated, with five Liberal MPs voting against it while Conservative and NDP MPs were in support.  

      It wasn't long before advocacy groups, physicians, patients and corporate executives alike took to Twitter to express their dismay in the Liberal party's decision to tax patients who use medical cannabis.