Ottawa on observe to spend $200M per yr on hashish for veterans

Ottawa is reimbursing a report variety of veterans for medical marijuana, with new figures displaying the federal authorities shelled out greater than $150 million within the final fiscal yr — greater than double the quantity simply three years in the past.

Ottawa is reimbursing a report variety of veterans for medical marijuana, with new figures displaying the federal authorities shelled out greater than $150 million within the final fiscal yr — greater than double the quantity simply three years in the past.

And that’s solely the start because the figures from Veterans Affairs Canada reveal the federal government is on observe to spend practically $200 million this yr as increasingly former service members ask the federal government to pay for his or her hashish.

Whereas specialists and advocates are unsure in regards to the causes for the surge, they agree in regards to the want for extra data on the actual advantages and potential harms of medical marijuana for veterans — and taxpayers paying for it.

“We desperately want higher proof to grasp if these insurance policies … and if the present utilization is prone to have extra profit or do extra hurt,” mentioned Jason Busse, affiliate director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Hashish Analysis at McMaster College.

“We don’t know that proper now.”

Veterans Affairs began reimbursing a small variety of former army personnel for his or her medical hashish in 2008, at which level the approvals had been granted on an especially restricted foundation and with the approval of a medical specialist.

The transfer adopted a sequence of court docket choices greater than 20 years in the past that first allowed a authorized exemption for the consumption of medical marijuana from legal prosecution.

Then in 2014, Well being Canada relaxed its guidelines round who might authorize using medical marijuana to Canadians and for what circumstances and circumstances. The brand new guidelines didn’t put a restrict on the quantity of pot that could possibly be licensed, or the price.

Veterans Affairs on the time was reimbursing 112 ex-service members for his or her pot, at a value of $409,000. By the next yr, that quantity had elevated to greater than 600, at a complete value of greater than $1.7 million — with no finish to the rise in sight.

Figures offered by the division to Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay in June for questions within the Home of Commons present the federal government reimbursed greater than 18,000 ex-military members for $153 million in medical marijuana claims in 2021-22.

“For fiscal yr 2022-23, program expenditures are forecasted to be $195.2 million,” provides the notice.

The skyrocketing claims and prices have continued regardless of the Liberal authorities determination in 2016 to restrict claims to 3 grams per day at $8.50 per gram, with an allowance of as much as 10 grams per day with medical authorization.

These limits resulted in an explosion of anger from veterans and advocates who mentioned the boundaries would negatively have an effect on them, although the notice to MacAulay mentioned one in 5 veterans was receiving greater than three grams per day.

By comparability, Well being Canada says the variety of Canadians throughout the nation registered to make use of medical marijuana, which is generally paid for by insurance coverage firms, fell to 257,000 in December 2021 from 345,000 in October 2018.

Officers on the B.C.-based Veterans Transition Community, which gives peer assist and counselling applications for former Armed Forces members, have seen the explosive development in medical marijuana use by veterans firsthand in recent times.

“Seeing these numbers … of simply the expansion yr over yr, to my thoughts, it suits with what we have seen by way of how commonplace it is grow to be within the veterans’ care panorama,” mentioned government director Oliver Thorne.

The community’s nationwide clinic director Dr. Paul Whitehead estimated round half of veterans collaborating within the group’s applications now use some kind of hashish product for medical causes, although the precise sort, frequency and dosage varies considerably.

Consultants cited numerous potential causes for the rise, together with the COVID-19 pandemic, broader consciousness, much less stigma round hashish use, and the emergence of a multimillion-dollar business round medical pot for veterans.

Some veterans and advocates have argued that the rise of medical hashish has helped scale back using opioids and different narcotics.

Whereas he could not say whether or not that was true, Whitehead reported a lower in alcohol use amongst his group’s shoppers.

But he and others additionally pointed to the various questions that stay about if medical marijuana actually helps veterans — and if that’s the case, how and why.

“We really feel assured there’s completely some profit as a result of veterans inform us that, and so they inform us that steadily,” mentioned Thorne. “However we don’t know the how. And I believe that’s what we actually must know: how does it work? Why does it work?”

Busse has been trying to reply a few of these questions at McMaster. What he’s found thus far is a paucity of actual knowledge in regards to the impacts of medical marijuana, with what is accessible displaying little to no affect on most individuals with power ache or sleep issues.

Even these research which have been performed have been extraordinarily restricted, Busse added, with little details about the affect on these affected by post-traumatic stress dysfunction and even the long-term impacts of utilizing hashish.

The dearth of concrete data comes regardless of the federal authorities having repeatedly promised over time to fund analysis on the difficulty. Busse blamed Well being Canada laws and pink tape for having prevented large-scale medical research.

“It was simply (this week) that we lastly obtained approval to run our first trial, regardless of having gotten funding for it over two years in the past,” he mentioned. “And I do know that quite a lot of firms have merely given up on doing medical trials in Canada.”

Veterans Affairs wouldn’t publicly converse to any anticipated modifications to its reimbursement guidelines, however officers advised MacAulay in June that as it’s “an evolving space of therapy, Veterans Affairs Canada is often reviewing the newest obtainable proof and adjusting our coverage as wanted.”

Whereas Thorne and Whitehead have heard veterans testify to the advantages of medical marijuana, and the Veterans Transition Community doesn’t assist limiting entry, there are considerations that some former service members will use the drug to keep away from their psychological trauma moderately than face it.

“We’d like to see the numbers of spending go up annually for counselling applications, whether or not it’s ours or it’s another,” Thorne mentioned. “We’d like to see that comparable type of uptake.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first revealed Aug. 7, 2022.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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