Expect longer border waits after marijuana legalization, CBSA report warns
The legalization of marijuana could lead to longer waits at Canada’s border crossings as officers deal with “cannabis tourists,” warns an intelligence report obtained by Global News.
The declassified Canada Border Services Agency document also said that illicit exports of marijuana “are expected to increase” after legalization, putting additional strain on officers.
“Unless exemptions are made for personal amounts of marijuana, cannabis legalization may increase workloads for officers and translate into longer border wait times, particularly at land borders,” it said.
Border delays will be particularly bad during summer months as visitors arrive for outdoor festivals, concerts and 4/20 cannabis events that occur every April 20, said the report by the CBSA’s Intelligence Operations and Analysis Division.
A declassified version of the Intelligence Briefing, titled “Cannabis Legalization: Implications for the CBSA and Canada,” was disclosed to Global News under the Access to Information Act.
Global News has previously reported that experts were concerned about the impact of legalization on the border. But the report confirms the government’s own border agency has the same worries.
The seven-page document shows the CBSA is trying to anticipate the fallout of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pot legalization plan, expected to come into effect later this year.
“Legalization of cannabis products will likely not lead to significant decreases in enforcement actions at the border as exports are expected to increase and travelers are likely to continue to cross the border with personal quantities,” it said.
The report said the main issues border officers will face are “cannabis tourists” arriving to use marijuana, impaired drivers and travelers carrying small amounts — unaware that taking marijuana across the border will still be illegal.
While the government has said legalization would hurt organized crime groups, the report said a black market will continue to exist for marijuana products that exceed the cultivation and potency limits set by the law, and crime groups will likely step in to fill the gaps.
The CBSA also said that as start-up companies begin large-scale production, the supply of marijuana products would outpace demand — a scenario crime groups could exploit by exporting the surplus.
Should crime groups find their profits undermined, they will simply shift to smuggling other types of drugs such as opiates, according to the report. Demand for hashish is also likely to outstrip domestic production, meaning illicit imports from the United States will continue.
The CBSA said it would have to update its agreements with partner agencies on import and export issues, and train officers. “Officers will require additional training to detect and determine intoxication levels due to suspected consumption of marijuana.”
By Stewart Bell and Patrick Cain Global News
TORONTO — Sun Life Financial Inc. is adding medical marijuana coverage as an option for its group benefits plans, signalling an insurance industry shift and growing acceptance of the drug that bodes well for Canada’s burgeoning cannabis sector.
The Toronto-based insurer’s president and chief executive Dean Connor said the move was influenced by rising interest from Sun Life’s employer clients.
“Medical marijuana has become a very important part of their treatment program and pain management program,” said Connor, referring to patients who have cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or those requiring palliative care.
Currently, the vast majority of registered patients must pay for medical marijuana out of their own pockets. But the move by Sun Life, which provides health benefits coverage to more than three million Canadians and their families, or one-in-six Canadians, could set a precedent for other insurers.
The new offering comes as the country moves to legalize cannabis for recreational use later this year and as the number of registered medical marijuana patients grows. There were more than 235,000 medical marijuana patients in the system across Canada at the end of September 2017 — the most recent date for which data is available — more than double the roughly 98,500 a year earlier, noted Vahan Ajamian, a Beacon Securities Ltd. research analyst.
“The insurance companies have been getting pressure to cover this as a regular medicine,” he said.
Meanwhile, pharmacists and pharmacies have also been warming up to cannabis.
Shoppers Drug Mart has lined up supply agreements with licensed producers, conditional upon Health Canada’s approval of its application to dispense the drug. The Canadian Pharmacists Association and two Quebec groups representing the industry have also said that pharmacies should play a leading role in medical marijuana’s distribution.
Jonathan Zaid, the executive director of patient advocacy group Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, said Sun Life’s enhanced coverage comes after years of litigation to gain acceptance for medical marijuana.
“Although there may not be immediate benefit for patients as specific plan sponsors will need to purchase the coverage, this move will make covering medical cannabis simpler than today’s exception process and speaks volumes to the broader acceptance and legitimacy of medical cannabis,” he said.
A number of plan sponsors have moved to cover medical cannabis costs over the years, Zaid noted, including the University of Waterloo’s student union, the Arthritis Society, Loblaw Companies Ltd., the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), and the Labourers’ International Union of North America. Those plans have varying eligibility criteria and levels of coverage, he added.
Starting March 1, plan sponsors with Sun Life will have the option to add medical cannabis coverage to extended health-care plans, ranging from $1,500 to $6,000 per covered person per year.
Medical cannabis coverage will be available for specific conditions and symptoms associated with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, HIV-AIDS, and palliative care.
In order to qualify for coverage, Sun Life plan members must meet specific criteria including an authorization letter from a physician and registration with a medical marijuana producer licensed with Health Canada.
Sun Life will also conduct periodic reviews of the growing body of clinical research supporting the use of medical cannabis for other conditions, and update its criteria if necessary, the company said in a document updating their client base of 22,300 plan sponsors.
Although this coverage does not encompass the full range of conditions and it is unclear how many businesses will use it, the insurer’s new offering is a positive development for Canada’s licensed medical marijuana producers, said Ajamian.
“Anything that makes it easier/cheaper for patients to get access should result in more patients, more volume, and (especially if it’s free) potentially more pricing power for producers,” he said in an email.
Manulife Financial Corp., one of Canada’s biggest insurers, offers medical cannabis coverage to clients on a selective basis, a spokesperson said.
“Manulife is supportive of clients that want to consider introducing medical cannabis as an option,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We also recommend that clients put limits and some management controls in place as this is an emerging market that is quickly evolving.”
As acceptance among insurers and employers appears to grow, a landmark battle over coverage of medical marijuana that helped add to the public conversation remains in the hands of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.
In October 2016, ThyssenKrupp Elevator Canada elevator mechanic Gordon Skinner went before the province’s Human Rights Tribunal over his union’s denial of coverage for his prescribed medical marijuana. The Nova Scotia man was injured in a motor vehicle accident in August 2010 while working, and was later prescribed medical cannabis to help with chronic pain. In January 2017, the tribunal ruled that the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Elevator Industry Welfare Trust Fund discriminated against Skinner, and ruled that his employer must cover medical marijuana.
The union took the case to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal last fall, and Skinner is now awaiting the final ruling, said his counsel Hugh Scher.
Scher is optimistic about the outcome and noted Sun Life’s new offering is “a very positive development in the sense of recognizing the efficacy of medical marijuana, and attempting to provide for a means of enabling employers and insurers to address that need.”
Companies in this story: (TSX:SLF, TSX:MFC)
Armina Ligaya, The Canadian Press, Feb. 15, 2018.