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Medical Cannabis vs. Recreational Cannabis — What You Need to Know

By: Benefits by Design | Thursday August 9, 2018

Updated : Tuesday June 6, 2023

Feature image provided by Releaf – UK Clinic

Back in 2018, medical cannabis was a hot topic in the benefits industry.  On October 17th, 2018, the federal government legalized recreational cannabis. Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about the difference between medical and recreational cannabis. Here’s what you need to know!

Medical vs. Recreational Cannabis: What’s the Difference?

Medical cannabis (MC) has been legal in Canada since 2001 and can be used to treat a number of medical conditions, while recreational cannabis (RC) was illegal in Canada until October 17th, 2018. Medical cannabis is prescribed by a physician to treat certain medical conditions, including, but not limited to:

Recreational cannabis, on the other hand, can be legally obtained through dispensaries and, true to the name, is for recreational purposes.

Workplace Accommodations

One important distinction between the two comes in the form of accommodation.

Employers have a duty to accommodate employees until undue hardship and this accommodation includes the use of legally prescribed medical cannabis in the same way it would be extended to any other disabled employee who has been prescribed medication.

However, in most cases, this requirement does not extend to the legal recreational cannabis product and the level of accommodation will be up to the individual employer. We’ll talk more about this in the next section.

Learn more about accommodation and cannabis on our webinar recording.

Watch the Recording of the Webinar!

Another difference is coverage. Medical cannabis can be covered under the right benefits plan. It has taken a while for insurers to begin covering medical cannabis due to a combination of not having a Drug Identification Number (DIN) and a lack of available research.

Despite this, some Insurers like Green Shield Canada (GSC) have begun incorporating medical cannabis into benefits plans (subject to prior authorization, with criteria based on specific medical conditions). As new evidence and research comes to light, we anticipate the list of covered conditions to grow.

Implications of Legalization on Human Resources Policies

The legalization of recreational cannabis may have significant implications for your Human Resources (HR) policies. To illustrate this, let’s use an example most employers can relate with: the company holiday party. In time for this years’ holiday party, employees will legally be able to consume recreational cannabis for the first time. Ask yourself, “How will my workplace handle this new situation?”

Here’s a few things we wanted to highlight for workplaces to begin thinking about:

You can gain incredible insight into some of the implications for workplaces from this recording of a live discussion forum with BBD’s partner Your Workplace and a number of industry experts from different backgrounds.

Learn more about medical and recreational cannabis in the workplace from our e-book!

Download Managing Medical Cannabis ebook (PDF 12.9 MB)