Here’s a link to a news brief I did last May concerning a struggle Carey Heilman and his pro bono lawyer Nicole Sarauer are waging against the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board.
Heilman suffers from debilitating back pain, and for several years he has used marijuana to alleviate his suffering. Typically, the WCB funds medical treatments that injured workers undergo to either improve their health and reenter the work force in some capacity, or to live as actively and comfortably as possible if the injury is long-term. But when Heilman applied to have the cost of the cannabis that he obtains from a licensed grower under Health Canada regulations covered the WCB said no.
With the aid of Sarauer, Heilman sued the WCB in Queen’s Bench court. In granting Heilman a rehearing at the WCB, the judge said it hadn’t executed its administrative duty properly. In making its decision, the judge said, the WCB had relied excessively on its standard medical position on medical marijuana without considering Heilman’s situation specifically.
The rehearing was held earlier today at the WCB office on the second floor of Hill Tower II. At Nicole and Carey’s invitation I intended to sit in on the hearing and see how things went. But when I showed up at the appointed time I was told by a WCB official that in order to protect Heilman’s privacy as a WCB client I would not be allowed to attend the hearing.
I could’ve argued, obviously. Your client is expressly granting me permission to attend his hearing. Why would you feel the need to protect his privacy by excluding me?
The Queen’s Bench judgment opened the door to Sauerer and Heilman presenting updated scientific evidence on the medicinal benefits of cannabis, and the positive impact it’s had on Heilman’s health as documented by Heilman and his doctor. In provinces like Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick WCBs fund medical marijuana for clients. I wanted to sit in on the hearing so I could see if the WCB officials were really engaged with what Saurer and Heilman were saying, or if they were just going through the motions to comply with the court ruling and then would render the same “blanket policy” verdict as the first time.
In Heilman’s case, none of the typical WCB issues are at stake. There’s no argument that he isn’t entitled to coverage under the WCB Act for a workplace injury. Rather, the issue is whether he and his medication provider are entitled to be reimbursed for the several thousand dollars of marijuana that he’s consumed to date to control his pain, and his future marijuana use to keep his pain at bay. So really the issue is societal in scope as a lot of other sick and injured people who might benefit from cannabis as Heilman has done are potentially impacted.
Right now the WCB has no problem paying for traditional pharmaceuticals for clients for pain relief and other uses. Some, like oxycontin, are opiates and are highly addictive. If you use them as a WCB client and become addicted, the WCB will pay for you to undergo detox. But it won’t fund marijuana, which is increasingly being regarded as a wonder drug that is (i) non-addictive (ii) inexpensive and easily grown and (iii) effective in treating conditions like nausea, anxiety, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, pain and many more.
Whack, I know. But hopefully when the WCB releases its ruling in a few months they’ll see the light and do what’s right.