B.C. Finance Committee recommends medical cannabis be exempt from PST

By NICHE Canada

Will B.C. move to exempt medical cannabis from sales tax? It will if the government listens to a recent recommendation from its Finance Committee.

This summer, the B.C. Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services released its unanimous report on the Budget 2020 Consultation. The report includes 106 recommendations for the next provincial budget and provides a summary of the concerns and priorities put forward by British Columbians.

While many may have missed the announcement, as the report was released in the middle of summer, it is important to highlight a noteworthy item included in the document. There on page 47 of the report was recommendation #52: Exempt medical cannabis sales from the PST.

The issue of taxing medical cannabis was brought forward to the committee by Aurora Cannabis during a province-wide consultation period. The company drew attention to the application of the provincial sales tax and federal excise tax on medical cannabis.

They emphasized that a medical cannabis authorization provided by a physician is equivalent to a prescription, and that prescription medications, oral vitamins and dietary supplements are all exempt from sales tax.

Aurora argued that medical cannabis patients should not be treated differently. The committee agreed and has provided its support for an exemption from the PST for medical cannabis.

Parliamentary committees in British Columbia do not have the authority to directly alter legislation or cause the government to take any specific action. Similarly, the government is not required to respond to committee reports. The government is free to act – or not act – on the advice put forward.

When it comes to acting on this particular recommendation, the move would provide some much-needed financial relief for patients. Unlike other prescribed medicine, medical cannabis is not only subject to sales tax in most jurisdictions, the federal government also places an excise tax on products, which adds another 10 per cent to each sale.

Groups like Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana have been petitioning the federal government to make medical cannabis tax exempt, in line with all other prescription medicines.

They argue the current taxation policies are unfair and are driving patients into the unregulated market. Doctors are among those calling for the removal of these taxes, stating that Canada should not be adding financial barriers to patients accessing a safer alternative to opioids.

If the B.C. government follows the recommendation put forward by the Finance Committee it would send a strong message and set a great example for the rest of Canada. It remains to be seen what will happen in February 2020 when the government unveils its latest budget, but there is time to have your say.

To show your support, you can write Carole James, the BC Minister of Finance. Or join the chorus of Canadians calling on governments across the country to level the playing field, and write a letter to your local MP, provincial MPP/MLA, and members of the House Standing Committee on Finance, urging them to remove taxes on medical cannabis.