Recently, we discussed employees’ attempts to obtain health plan coverage for medical marijuana (you can find the post here). In the midst of speculation surrounding the Federal government’s soon-to-be-released legislation on recreational marijuana use, one Canadian employer has announced that it will cover prescription cannabis under its employee health benefits plan. Loblaws has taken the lead in this area and will now accept claims from its employees for marijuana prescriptions.

Currently, claims covered by Manulife under Loblaws’ plan are specific to treatment for “spasticity and neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis and nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy for cancer patients”, but it is foreseeable that these kinds of limitations in benefit coverage could expand in the face of legal challenges to such restrictions. As the law in this area continues to evolve and especially if marijuana is legalized by July 2018, new bases for coverage will likely emerge.

For interested employers, obtaining the appropriate insurance coverage is not yet straightforward; because cannabis still does not have a drug identification number, employers may need to seek out “extra-contractual provisions” from insurers to administer coverage. Taking the step to inquire about coverage may be well worth the trouble once marijuana becomes legal and once it is much more readily accessible.

Both Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart are now accepting medical marijuana prescriptions, and between Shoppers, Loblaws and Weston Foods, roughly 45,000 employees may be able to claim up to $1,500/year for prescription cannabis. Loblaws is currently the largest private sector employer offering this benefit, but others are bound to follow suit.

Employers should take note and consider revising existing benefit coverage to include prescription cannabis — particularly in light of the pending legalization of marijuana which will cause existing use-restrictions to go up in smoke.