Labourers’ Union Benefits Now Covers Medical Pot

Medical marijuana plants seen at Aphria's Leamington greenhouses on February 19, 2016. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

Calling it an effort to fight the opioid crisis, LiUNA!625 will soon cover medicinal cannabis products in its benefits package.

“The folks that go out to work every day, day in and day out on construction sites; they are able to be reimbursed for cannabis oil with limited THC,” says Business Manager Rob Petroni. “And then I have another group of retirees, those that are on disability, cancer patients that need pain medication and they are reimbursed for all medicinal cannabis products.”

The union represents 1,500 labourers in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent, and as of June 15, Petroni says it may be the first union in North America to offer it.

“We’ve been working diligently on this initiative with key partners for several months,” says Petroni admitting it wasn’t easy because of the stigma attached to marijuana.

As the research came in, it became apparent that not only could it be beneficial to the health of the membership, it made good business sense too.

“We have a drug we use for IBS [irritable bowel syndrome] that’s about $50,000 to $60,000 a year, and if they replace it with the cannabis oil — it’s $2,400 a year,” he says.

The union will conduct a study over the next year or two to see how it affects the rate of opioid use among the rank and file.

A recent report by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit shows the total rate of opioid users was 18.9% higher than the provincial rate. The report says there were 43 opioid-related deaths in Windsor-Essex in 2015, an increase of almost 190% since 2003.

Petroni hopes it helps fight the opioid crisis.

“From our point of view, it is a medicine. It is prescribed by a doctor,” he says. “Quite honestly, I’m not sure how a plan member doesn’t challenge a plan, saying you provide this drug, this drug and this drug which are harmful, but you won’t provide this one.”