News / Edmonton

'Already hurting enough': Pain patient challenges plan to tax medical marijuana

Edmonton woman says marijuana has helped her ditch a cocktail of pharmaceuticals, and it already costs more than it should.

Reba Stellmaker is upset that the federal government is proposing a tax on medical marijuana.

Kevin Tuong / metro Order this photo

Reba Stellmaker is upset that the federal government is proposing a tax on medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana users are speaking out against a proposed federal tax on the drug that many are already struggling to pay for.

“I found it quite shocking, because there is supposed to be a law against taxing medication,” said Reba Stellmaker, an Edmonton woman who uses marijuana to treat fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease and chronic pain.

“In my eyes, that’s exactly what the government is doing. They’re trying to gain from people that are already hurting enough.”

Stellmaker is on disability and pays $250 a month for medical cannabis, as the drug is not covered under Canadian health plans.

An added tax, she said, would be hard to afford.

“Being on disability it’s a challenge enough just trying to pay for your core needs,” Stellmaker said.

Before marijuana, she was on a cocktail of opioids, antidepressants and sleeping pills.

Stellmaker said she was taking eight Oxycontins a day, as well as eight Gabapentins and six Metadol-Ds, after she was in a serious car crash in 2010 when a man fell asleep at the wheel and drove into her car head-on.

The pain, and the effects of the drugs, caused her to lose her career in materials engineering and plunged her into a deep depression.

Stellmaker’s legs swelled up and she spent most of her time in bed.

“I was pretty close to being vegetabalized,” she said.

“I was really close to the edge of leaving Earth when I was going through all of this.”

On her birthday that same year, she visited her daughter and tried marijuana that her daughter had baked some into a batch of cookies.

Stellmaker slept through the night for the first time in years.

Since getting her cannabis prescription, she has been able to go off all pharmaceuticals and managed to get a part-time job, start playing music again and resurrect her social life.

“As soon as I got off the medication I started to be able to move around more, because I wasn’t so wasted on medication,” Stellmaker said.

“I lost weight, I was able to control the edema in my legs and just have a better quality of life – being able to go out and see people again, being able to do stuff around the house that I wasn’t doing prior.”

The federal government revealed plans in November to add an excise tax of $1 per gram of marijuana – or 10 per cent of the final retail price, whichever is higher – to recreational and medical marijuana.

Last week, a coalition of 11 health organizations called on the government to nix the medical tax.

Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana submitted a response to the government’s consultation process Thursday, saying the proposed tax “places an inappropriate, unfair burden on patients.”

In a statement, the coalition said its members were “shocked” by the proposal.

Not-for-profits that make up the group represent patients with AIDS, spondylitis, arthritis, hospice, cardiac, crohn’s and colitis, gastrointestinal, Huntington’s, skin cancer and spondylitis among other conditions.

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