Medical marijuana coverage now included in Loblaw Companies' health benefits plan

Food and drug giant the first in Canada to offer coverage of medical marijuana

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      How comprehensive is your medical benefits plan? Think your employer would ever consider covering medical marijuana?

      Chances are, that's a long shot, but one Canadian company has taken steps to cover the costs for employees who use medical marijuana for specific conditions.

      As of March 28, employees who work for Superstore, Shoppers Drug Mart, and other companies owned by the food and drug giant, Loblaw, are eligible for coverage of medical marijuana, up to $1,500 annually.

      In a CBC story published earlier today, Joan Weir, director of health and disability policy with the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, said although she was surprised to see the coverage offered as part of the company's health benefits plan, "it's not a game changer yet."

      Why? Coverage is limited to employees who suffer from multiple sclerosis, and the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients. Some critics have also said that the annual allotted amount of $1,500 is "quite low". 

      Think your company will offer coverage of medical marijuana after it's legalized by the federal government?

      But being the first to offer coverage makes Loblaw Companies stand out among the pack. It also speaks to Loblaw's recent application to Health Canada: The company has applied for a license so that its Shoppers Drug Mart stores can sell medical marijuana.

      The CBC story reported that approximately 45,000 employees are covered, however the company doesn't know how many of its workers currently use medical marijuana. 

      Loblaw spokesperson Tammy Smitham told CBC in a statement that the newly offered coverage is part of how the company is "adapting to changes in the areas of drug therapies."

      She said that in light of emerging research that supports evidence that medical marijuana can serve as treatment for certain conditions, "we felt the time was right to make this addition to our benefits plan." 

      Weir said that while insurance companies and their clients might worry about medical marijuana's effectiveness and cost, questions of how it will be used with respect to the workplace have also arisen.

      These concerns include, "having medical marijuana at work, having it used at work, having impairment at work, all of those sorts of issues that employers would have to deal with if they were to add it on."

      She added that more research into the effects of the plant might help employers shed some of those fears, and guessed that in the event other companies might consider offering similar coverage, it would happen at a slow pace.