N.L. not weighing big changes to medical cannabis coverage for injured workers

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WorkplaceNL is aware of action in other provinces that could allow injured workers more access to medical-use cannabis, but there is no significant movement in that direction at this point in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"It is an area where we've had some internal discussions, but we haven't yet seen, I guess, any substantive increase in requests of this nature in this area for medical-use marijuana and cannabis," WorkplaceNL CEO Dennis Hogan said in an interview.

"So we're continuing to watch that situation."

Last year, New Brunswick was the first province to introduce cannabis guidelines for workers' compensation claims. P.E.I. and Ontario followed. Nova Scotia is expected to release its guidelines in early April.

There are more than 70 injured workers in New Brunswick who are having their medical cannabis covered. In Nova Scotia and P.E.I., the number is 10.

WorkplaceNL won't talk about specific numbers of requests for medical weed here, citing privacy reasons.

"In those provinces or territories that may release that number, they may have a larger base of clients, which wouldn't lead to any potential risk related to privacy considerations," Hogan said.

"So in other words, our number would be pretty small."

Not endorsed by Health Canada

WorkplaceNL does not currently cover medical-use marijuana, because it is not a Health Canada-approved drug, does not have a drug identification number (DIN), and is not endorsed by Health Canada.  

Any requests for coverage are assessed on their individual merits, on a case-by-case basis.

That includes situations where a physician has authorized cannabis.

While WorkplaceNL has declined to get into details about specific cases and even general numbers, citing privacy reasons, the details of some requests are on the public record.

In at least four cases, workers have appealed WorkplaceNL decisions to reject their medical cannabis claims to the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Review Division.

In three of those cases, the appeal was denied.

But in the most recent ruling, issued in October 2018 and posted online, the chief review commissioner overturned WorkplaceNL's decision to deny coverage for cannabis oil, noting that case was an "exceptional circumstance."

Opinions shifting in other provinces

Opinions on medical-use cannabis for injured workers have been shifting in other provinces.

In Nova Scotia, for example, the chief medical officer for that province's Workers Compensation Board acknowledged the position in the past has been a firm no.

But Dr. Manoj Vohra told CBC News that has changed in the last year.

"We're starting to see that more evidence is coming, more workers are asking for it and so now we're starting to develop criteria on guidelines," he said.

And in New Brunswick, which was on the leading edge of the issue, officials point to the fact that other provinces are taking steps in the same direction.

I think over time, we will see which works best and probably reach a consensus.- Dr. Paul Atkinson, chief medical officer for Worksafe NB

"We have been discussing this at a national level," said Dr. Paul Atkinson, chief medical officer for Worksafe NB.

He noted that medicinal cannabis was a major topic of discussion at a meeting last year of medical directors for workers' compensation boards.

"We were encouraged that after discussion, we had general support for our approach at a national level," Atkinson said.

"Others perhaps will try something slightly different. Some may follow what we've done. I think over time, we will see which works best and probably reach a consensus."

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