One local of an Ontario construction union is introducing medical marijuana coverage into its benefits plan, effective June 15.
LiUNA Local 625 represents around 1,500 active construction workers and 1,600 dependants and retirees in the Windsor area. It began researching medical marijuana coverage two years ago, motivated by the desire to reduce the amount of opiates its members take, says business manager Rob Petroni.
“Our members work in construction, which is a physically demanding job,” he says. If a worker gets injured, he wants them to have a treatment option beyond highly addictive opiates, which can wreak havoc on both bodies and careers.

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“[If] you have an injury, you start taking a Percocet. Next thing you know, it’s two Percocets, then it’s four a day. I would assume that workers, not just my members, go to work and deal with pain [by using] opiates.”
The plan has two levels of cannabis coverage: retirees, disabled workers and dependants — that is, anyone who isn’t going to a worksite — will be covered for any type of medical marijuana. Active employees, however, are limited to cannabidiol oil with the lowest amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
That was how the plan addressed employers’ fears “about our members showing up to work with THC in their system,” Petroni says. “And the way we explained it was if somebody shows up to work and they’d been drinking . . . they go home. If somebody shows up high, they go home. But if somebody shows up on painkillers, the employer doesn’t know they’re on painkillers and they continue to work and I would argue that’s more hazardous that [cannabidiol] oil with 0.7 [per cent] THC.”

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Petroni also notes the new coverage could save the plan money. Some members, for example, are taking medication for irritable bowel syndrome that costs $50,000 each year. If they were to switch to cannabis oil, that cost would drop to around $2,400 per year.
The plan is implementing a $2,000 cap per member for the rest of 2017, and will revisit the limit in January 2018. Over the first year, it will also track how many members fill medical marijuana prescriptions and whether claims for opiates and other drugs fall, and will use the data to reassess the coverage.

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