WCB Medical Marijuana Case Back In Court

court photoIIIAt 10 a.m. I headed over to the courthouse to sit in on a Queen’s Bench proceeding before Justice Whitmore where Carey Heilman, through his pro bono lawyer Nicole Sarauer, was appealing a Workers Compensation Board ruling denying him coverage for medical marijuana which he has been using under the direction of his physician Dr. Kumar for over 11 years to control severe back pain associated with workplace injuries suffered in 1981 and 1997 that has proven resistant to treatment by conventional pharmaceuticals.

Heilman wasn’t able to attend the proceeding as he was undergoing yet another back surgery to try to improve his quality of life. But some supporters (pictured above) did show up to support his application and promote awareness of the ongoing challenges that people who are trying to access medical marijuana as part of pain management and other medical therapies are having.

This is a case I’ve written on several times before. Unlike most WCB disputes there’s no question that Heilman suffered a workplace injury that entitles him to support under the Act. What is at issue is what role the WCB should play in determining the best course of treatment for Heilman as a client. Twice now the WCB has denied to compensate him for the cost of the medical marijuana that he uses for pain management. It did so on the grounds that the medical benefits of marijuana have not yet been proven through rigorous scientific study, as typically happens with pharmaceuticals before they receive government approval, and that there may be harmful side effects stemming from the challenge of controlling exact dosage depending on the strain and amount of marijuana smoked. Therefore, as part of its duty of care toward Heilman it couldn’t reimburse him.

In asking the court to quash the decision and either substitute its own ruling that the WCB fund the treatment or at the very least review its decision yet again Sarauer argued that the WCB was overstepping its jurisdiction by effectively deciding on Heilman’s behalf what was an appropriate medical treatment for him. Yes, there may be potential side effects from marijuana use, especially in the long-term. But numerous other pharmaceuticals, like opiates, have side effects as well — like addiction — and they are regularly funded by the WCB.

With an 11-year track record of using marijuana to control his pain under the supervision of a world renowned neurosurgeon Sarauer argued the WCB was infringing on her client’s right to access a medical treatment that had proven safe and effective for him. She also noted that as a permanently disabled worker Heilman was necessarily reliant on WCB resources to fund his treatment. Yes, through the generosity of his supplier, Heilman had thus far been able to obtain cannabis under license from Health Canada, but the financial hardship this imposed on him was interfering with his well-being and therefore by denying coverage the WCB was making a de facto medical decision for him that exceeded its authority under s. 22(1) and s. 106 of the Act.

After considering the arguments of Sarauer and WCB counsel Justice Whitmore said he would release his decision at a later date.

Author: Gregory Beatty

Greg Beatty is a crime-fighting shapeshifter who hatched from a mutagenic egg many decades ago. He likes sunny days, puppies and antique shoes. His favourite colour is not visible to your puny human eyes. He refuses to write a bio for this website and if that means Whitworth writes one for him, so be it.

4 thoughts on “WCB Medical Marijuana Case Back In Court”

  1. I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, I am a supporter of the full legalization of marijuana (subject to alcohol- and tobacco-like restrictions). However, I am also a strong advocate for evidence-based medicine, and the evidence for the efficacy of marijuana and long-term studies of side-effects is somewhat lacking. But, I don’t think WCB is the appropriate body to determine whether a treatment is sufficiently backed by evidence to be covered. On the other hand, I am unconvinced that WCB should be required to pay for any treatment prescribed by a doctor (there are sadly a number of doctors swayed by woo like chiropractic or TCM). In the end, I believe there should be a statutory body granted the responsibility for determining what prescriptions should be covered by WCB/insurance/etc. based on the standards of medical practice. Fortunately, a qualified body already exists: The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan. So I defer to their opinion on the medical use of marijuana: “In the absence of scientific information that provides the grounds to support the medical use of marijuana for the conditions… the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan is uncertain of the safety and efficacy of the medical use of marijuana.” Based on this policy, I am forced to believe that Heilman should not be granted coverage for his weed. Hmmm, I never thought that would be my opinion on this case.

  2. Good story, very well written. I was surprised about the rally at the courthouse. Seeing as though I am a part of this story I feel that a semi-coherent opinion from my hospital bed is in order. What most people don’t understand is I never wanted to use cannabis ever. I asked the WCB for help before my situation progressed to that point but they were as unreasonable as always. As was the law this medication was only used as an effective last resort to relieve severe chronic spasms that no other medication comes close to working as well. As far as I’m concerned everyone can take their science and shove it. If anyone bothered to actually see what it does for me they would not deny me the relief. And being it is relief from the result of an undisputed workplace injury! Well, to me this is a no-brainer.

  3. In my opinion, legalization has nothing to do with medical Cannabis, because it is already “legal” in Canada…so forget that asinine argument. In addition, the fact that governmental bodies have the legal option (via social policy) to disallow different forms of treatment or medicine is constitutionally deficient, and thus grossly unfair. I thought this was Canada and a democratic society? We openly allow our government to abuse OUR tax dollars to harm/fight disabled workers? What? Why do we pay WCB premiums then? I would never condone this type of treatment, nor should anyone else.

    If Cannabis helps this man, then the government should foot the bill, end of story. We live in a world that is obsessed with money, and we allow harm to take precedence over care. Tommy Douglas would be irate, at the way in which, we treat disabled workers and their health “care”.

    Isn’t this why Tommy Douglas took a stand? So no one would have to suffer needlessly, because of ????? MONEY!!!!!

    I don’t have a choice whether or not I pay my taxes, and thus, the government’s choice to fund therapy aids should be removed and replaced with a mutually accommodating policy.

    Wake-up, and start standing with your fellow brothers and sisters because we are all WE have. No one is exempt from work place injury. So, try to walk a mile in this man’s shoes and open your eyes to compassion. :)

  4. Thoughtful writing ! I was enlightened by the info , Does anyone know where I can get ahold of a fillable a form form to work with ?

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