A Saskatoon woman is taking two provincial ministries and the Attorney General of Saskatchewan to court, seeking to have the government subsidize the cost of the medicinal cannabis she uses to treat illnesses, namely Crohn’s Disease.
Alicia Yascheschen, who is self-represented, filed her application in Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench on Sept. 18. She is also seeking coverage backdated to March 2011, totalling $63,000. The province is seeking to have the application dismissed.
None of the claims made in her suit has been proven in court.
Ultimately, medicinal cannabis keeps her out of the hospital, Yashcheshen said in an interview.
“It keeps me good in a sense, but if I had more, I could achieve a sense of remission that I wouldn’t even have to worry about the coverage or working or stuff like that,” she said.
“It’s a lifesaver in a syringe, but it seems so simple; but to some people it seems so complex. But it’s oil.”
Yasheschen was diagnosed with Crohn’s, a gastrointestinal illness that causes inflammation, in 2004. She has had adverse reactions to other prescription medication, including problems with her eyes.
For a time, she had an addiction to opioids, which she had been taking for chronic pain resulting from car crashes.
Then, by chance, during a Crohn’s flareup in 2008, a friend offered her a marijuana joint. She soon felt better, she says.
Yashcheshen now uses medicinal cannabis to treat the inflammation, which she said could become life threatening. She primarily uses full extract cannabis oil (or FECO) in capsules which she can ingest orally, or as suppositories with olive oil or coconut oil in the capsule.
She gets the cannabis at cost. Her parents pay for it because she is unable to work and the amount she receives in social assistance is not enough to cover the cost of her medicine, she said.
“If I were to go and buy this from a dispensary, we’re talking 50 per cent more. It would probably be about five grand. I’m lucky, I’m able to get it for about $1,700 a month.”
Yascheshen’s application asks the court to compel the Ministry of Social Services under the Saskatchewan Assistance and/or Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program to include her cannabis in the category of special food items (monthly) during convalescence to cover the cost of her infused cannabis supplements. She wants the court to overturn an earlier appeals board decision to deny coverage.
She also wants the Ministry of Health to exempt her “from the ban on coverage under the special support program’s non-insured supplementary health benefits for medical Cannabis oil to accommodate (her) case by providing coverage,” her application states.
Under provincial assistance and the SAID program, recipients are eligible for supplementary health benefits, including total or near total coverage of prescription medication.
Yascheschen’s application argues that the province infringes on her rights to life, liberty and security of the person “by denying her the autonomy to choose how to treat her illness.”
In a response filed by the attorney general’s office on Jan. 11, the province argues the court should dismiss her applications, noting that the health ministry “denied reimbursement for medical marijuana specifically because the Minister is not satisfied that it is safe and effective.”
The province’s response argues that the Ministry of Social Services ministry believes it was reasonable for its appeal board to conclude that Social Services doesn’t have the ability to cover drug-related expenses governed by the health ministry. It notes that the purpose of the SAID program is to provide income support for basic living expenses.
The ministry agreed to cover the monthly cost of Yashcheshen’s special dietary needs, but not her medicinal cannabis. She applied to the Social Services Centre Regional Appeal Committee, arguing she was being denied full benefits under the SAID program. The appeal committee found that the ministry had no ability to fund drug-related benefits, since that’s governed by the Ministry of Health.
In the government’s response, the attorney general argues that cannabis oil does not fit the criteria of a special food item, and that Yashcheshen’s rights have not been infringed upon. It states that alternative remedies are available to her, including a legislative challenge.
The matter is scheduled for a hearing in Court of Queen’s Bench chambers on Jan. 22.