Nova Scotia

Sydney man with epilepsy wants province to pay for his medical marijuana

A Sydney man feels the provincial Department of Community Services should pay for his medical marijuana. Abel Stuart has epilepsy and has found marijuana significantly reduces the frequency of his seizures, but he can't afford cost of federally licensed supplier.

Abel Stuart says he can't afford $540 a month, has no quality of life without the marijuana

A Sydney man with epilepsy says medical marijuana has greatly reduced his seizures. (Associated Press)

A Sydney, N.S., man is fighting to have the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services cover the cost of his medical marijuana.

Abvhiael (Abel) Stuart has what he describes as "severe, chronic and uncontrolled" epilepsy and has found marijuana significantly reduces the frequency of his seizures from between one and three times a day to once a month.

"It gives me a quality of life, which is something I've lost a lot of with the epilepsy getting bad," he said. "And I'd like to be able to get back to life."

Side effects

Over the past 12 years, Stuart has tried seven different anticonvulsants. "I've had the side effects from them," he said. "Dilantin makes my bones itch from the inside out."

Other medications caused beet-red skin, big purple bruises and difficulty moving.

Abel Stuart says there is precedent for the province to pay for medical marijuana. (Holly Conners)

Stuart worked at the Convergys call centre in Glace Bay but worsening seizures forced him to quit in 2014, he said. 

"Grand mals, I have one of those and I'm pretty much done for the day ... Generally an hour, an hour-and-a-half after the seizure I'm completely unconscious."

He started collecting social assistance in 2015.

Last November, Stuart obtained a doctor's prescription for medical marijuana with help from the Marijuana For Trauma clinic in Sydney. His prescription of three grams a day of high-cannabidiol-containing medical marijuana from a federally licensed supplier would cost $540 per month, which Stuart said he can't afford.

Coverage refused

Stuart applied to Community Services to have the cost covered as a special need and was denied.

The department wouldn't provide anyone to speak to the issue Tuesday but sent the following written statement:

"The Department of Community Services provides clients with coverage for medications listed on the Nova Scotia Formulary. Medical marijuana is not included on the formulary or covered under MSI and therefore coverage is not available under the department's pharmacare program, or as an item of special need."

The statement went on to say, "Medical marijuana is not an approved Health Canada drug and therefore cannot be included on the provincial formulary. There is no publicly-funded program that covers medical marijuana in Nova Scotia."

Stuart argues there is legal precedent to support his case.

In March 2010, a Supreme Court of Nova Scotia ruling ordered the department to cover the cost of medicinal marijuana as a special need for a Halifax woman who used it for the symptoms of fibromyalgia and chronic Hepatitis C. The decision was later upheld.

"This sets a precedent. This sets the fact that they do have a responsibility to be covering this."

Stuart plans to take his case to the Assistance Appeal Board, and to request a judicial review.

"To try to get them to have number one, compassion, and two, the responsibility to obey the law," he said.