Neil Gregg will be finishing his second semester at Kwantlen's Cannabis Professional Series this month, and he’s looking forward to taking what he’s learned in the past 6 months into his continued education at Niagara College in Ottawa later this year. But the story Gregg really wants to tell is how he was able to get not only his skills retraining at Kwantlen, but also his medical cannabis, both covered through a community development society.
Gregg came to the Kootenay Career Development Society (KCDS) spring of 2016, finding himself out of work. Kootenay Career Development Society is contracted by the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, Employment and Labour Market Services “to assist eligible participants to connect to funding for training or education that will help them find and maintain employment.”
The program is designed for people who are having trouble finding work because of a lack of skills or skills that have become out of date with the workforce.
After spending several years in the area working for various growers licensed to provide cannabis for patients authorized under a 2014 court injunction (Allard/MMAR), Gregg said he found himself suddenly out of work and wanting a change.
With several years of specialized experience behind him in an industry operating in, at best, a legal grey area, Gregg said he was ready for a change. He wanted to continue working in the cannabis industry, but he wanted to find a way to take his skills and apply them in an industry with more clear legal parameters.
“I spent years working with cannabis and learning about the plant. But I was a bit jaded on my experience in the industry and thought I could find a way to take my skills and apply them in a new way. I owe a lot to cannabis as someone who uses it to treat Crohn's, and I want to be able to grow those skills and take the herb into an industry where I know there is a future.”
At KCDS, Gregg qualified for the programming offered through KCDS/Community Futures because of a previous EI attachment. His counsellor also told him about a skills retraining option and a small business loan that he could apply for.
Initially applying for the small business loan, he proposed to run a boutique photography studio to service the cannabis sector and ancillary businesses. But after the application dragged on for several months, with concerns about a loan to a photographer businesses taking images outside the existing marketing regulations, and with Gregg still out of work and having to stay out of work to qualify for the loan, he decided to shift gears.
“I went back into KCDS in August. I had done some research and discovered the Kwantlen cannabis course and brought it back to my counsellor. At this point it’s late August and he knew the seats were filling up in the class fast. I think the fact I had already waited several months with Community Futures might have helped here, because I had tried to make that work for so long. They approved my proposal and I was enrolled in the program.”
The Kwantlen Cannabis Course is an online course offering classes like Plant Production and Facility Management, Marketing Sales, and Drug Development, and it bills itself as being designed to provide “an overview of the successes and continual challenges within the rapidly expanding medical marijuana market” from professionals with experience in the industry including horticulturalists, lawyers and marketing specialists.
KCDS approved coverage of Gregg’s tuition and many of his living expenses. Then, near the end of the first course, one assignment required them to look into the registration process for someone to register for a licensed producer under Health Canada’s legal access program (ACMPR).
Because he was already using cannabis to manage symptoms of his Crohn's disease, a diagnosis he has had since he was 17, and was able to get approval from a doctor, he found himself following through with the registration, and had signed up with a Licensed Producer in a matter of a week.
Realizing that prescription medication was covered by KDCS, and that the cannabis he could now order through the ACMPR was tantamount to a prescription, Gregg said he went back mostly out of curiosity.
His counsellor reviewed his paperwork and told him everything looked in order and gave him approval for the increase of about $300 every two weeks based on receipts from his first order.
It’s now nearing the end of his third course with Kwantlen and his participation in KDCS is coming to an end. He plans to take what he learned in the classes about Canada’s regulatory regime and his past skills growing cannabis and will be applying to Niagara College’s agricultural greenhouse program in Niagara-On-The-Lake.
But he hopes that his story of having his education in the cannabis industry and his medical cannabis both covered while he does his studies is one that can empower other Canadians in a similar place as him.
"I see the potential for this precedent to be applied to all cannabis patients seeking coverage. This landmark could pave the way for medical cannabis coverage for patients on disability, financial assistance, or unemployment insurance, and could even help clear a path for private insurance coverage; if the government of Canada is covering medical cannabis prescriptions and education, perhaps there will be more pressure on private insurers to include medical cannabis coverage as part of their medical coverage plans—regardless of cannabis having secured a DIN.
“That's the ultimate goal here, help patients facing financial difficulty access the medication they need to live as close to a normal life as possible”.
A representative from Kootenay Career Development said they can’t discuss specifics of the case, but did say that the purpose of their program is to help each individual meet their specific employment goals so they can again participate in the job market.
“Kootenay Career Development Society is the approved WorkBC contractor for our region, offering a menu of employment services, including Occupational Skills Training, the purpose of which is to support eligible case-managed Clients to obtain the skills that are necessary for them to find sustainable employment,” said Jocelyn Carver, Executive Director at KCDS.
“The Skills Training program requires that eligible clients do significant work to prepare an application. This application process includes (but is not limited to): undertaking personal career and skills assessments; researching the local/regional labour market and identifying approved training programs/institutions; building a strong rationale for the need for training; and assessing their personal financial circumstances. Eligible participants negotiate with staff to receive financial support for tuition, costs associated with training and, in some cases, living supports (within maximums specified in policy). The purpose of these financial supports is to allow the client to participate in WorkBC programs, i.e. ensuring that a lack of funds or resources for basic expenses or required items don’t create barriers to accessing needed services, including training.”
One of the groups Gregg credits with giving him the motivation to pursue this course was CFAMM, the Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, a non-profit group who helps further Canadian medical cannabis patients' rights. Jonathan Zaid, the founder of CFAMM, says this cases like this help push access forward. Zaid made waves in the medical cannabis world in 2015 when, then a third year student at the University of Waterloo, he was able to get his medical marijuana costs covered by his student medical insurance plan.
"As patient advocates like Neil continue to set important precedents, we can steadily see cost coverage policy shifting across the country," Zaid told Lift. "Cases like these will put increased pressure on payers to consider covering cannabis on a more frequent basis."