Advocates of medical marijuana are hailing a landmark Nova Scotia court ruling, hoping it leads the way to taxpayer-funded pot supplies for low-income patients across Canada.
Last week the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ordered the provincial government to pick up the tab for the medical marijuana smoked by Sally Campbell, a chronically ill woman on welfare.
Some provinces already pay for the marijuana prescribed to patients under workers’ compensation claims. Since 2008, the federal government has also paid for the marijuana consumed by a handful of military veterans receiving disability benefits.
But until now, no province has covered the cost of doctor-prescribed marijuana for people on social assistance, according to a cross-Canada survey by the Nova Scotia government.
“This is a new and developing area of law. I’m not aware of any precedent in this area,” says Kirk Tousaw, a Vancouver Island lawyer who represents people seeking federal licences for the medical use of marijuana.
Tousaw says the Nova Scotia ruling may not immediately or directly influence the law in other provinces. However, “it does represent a court saying that this particular drug deserves to be financially covered in certain circumstances,” he says. “I think it’s a very positive development.”
Even more optimistic is Chad Clelland, the director of community relations for Medicalmarijuana.ca – a national coalition of doctors, patients and pot-growers that has spent years helping low-income Canadians find affordable sources of medicinal pot.
“It would be fantastic if this case opened the door in other provinces, if it helped needy patients get affordable access to marijuana,” he says.
Less happy about the matter is the Nova Scotia government, which for years fought Halifax resident Campbell’s request for an increase in her provincial income assistance, to pay for her monthly pot supply. Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter has said what worries him about the decision is not having to fork out money for Campbell’s marijuana, but that the ruling may result in the cash-strapped province having to pay for a host of other medications.