A 53-year-old Toronto man, who has asked to remain anonymous, said he was always upfront with his doctors about his lifelong cannabis consumption. But late last year, that honesty cost him his driving privileges. The man lost his driver’s license for admitting marijuana use to Doctor Peter Phua, a physician working in a psychotherapy clinic. Dr. Phua reported the man’s habitual cannabis consumption to the government as a “substance use disorder,” which led to his license being suspended.
Ontario Doctor Reports Patient’s Medical Cannabis Use to Suspend His Driver’s License
The Toronto man who lost his license after his doctor reported his cannabis use to the government uses it for medical reasons. He suffers from Crohn’s Disease, a painful gastrointestinal condition, and has fought and beat cancer—twice. He also deals with anxiety and acute claustrophobia. To get him help with his psychological conditions, the man’s longtime family physician referred him to a psychotherapist.
Over the course of his first two sessions, the man disclosed details about his daily cannabis use. The man told Dr. Phua that he smokes five small spliffs each day. But he also told Dr. Phua that he’s conscientious about his cannabis consumption and that it helps him relieve pain and relax. “He’s a doctor, I thought I could trust him. If you can’t trust your doctor who can you trust?” the man said.
But it appears the man misplaced his trust. He says Dr. Phua told him twice that he could suspend the man’s license by reporting his cannabis use. Each time, the man says, Dr. Phua told him that he wouldn’t actually do that. But a week after the man’s second session, Phua called to inform the man that he had in fact reported the cannabis use to the Ministry of Transportation. “It was unreal, it sucked the air out of me,” the man told Global News.
Can Doctor’s Really Report Patients’ Cannabis Use?
Typically, patient privacy law protects a person’s confidentiality. But in Ontario, those rules changed on July 2018. Section 203 of the Highway Traffic Act requires physicians to report certain “high-risk” medical conditions. Usually, these are visual or other physical impairments that make it difficult for someone to safely operate a vehicle. But the rules also specify substance use disorders that a doctor has diagnosed. Still, reporting substance use problems is only mandatory if the person in question isn’t complying with treatment recommendations.
Dr. Phua made no such diagnosis of the Toronto man who came to him for help with anxiety. Nor did he make any treatment recommendations for the man’s cannabis consumption.
The man lost his driver’s license on October 22, 2018. But by then, he had already filed a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons. He also appealed the Ministry of Transportation‘s decision, submitting evidence from the gastroenterologist knowledgable about the man’s Crohn’s Disease. That doctor told the Ministry that the man had no drug dependent history of impairment. And in two weeks, the Ministry lifted the suspension on his license—a miraculously fast turnaround, according to Ministry staff.
The Ministry of Transportation says that it reviews each case on an individual basis, which made it easy to see that the Toronto man’s license was unnecessarily revoked. But the ordeal highlights that while Canada may be a legal-weed nation, cannabis consumption can still be highly stigmatized. And when people who hold those stigmas hold such power over legal cannabis consumers, as doctors do, that’s a huge problem.