Veterans Affairs Canada is considering capping its medical marijuana program, limiting how many grams of pot former military personnel can receive, and how much the government will pay.
Veterans Affairs wants to ensure costs for the burgeoning program don’t spiral out of control. The cap, proposed last month, is also aimed at addressing medical concerns over the efficacy and safety of using marijuana for medicinal reasons.
Federally, Veterans Affairs Canada is the only publicly funded payer for medical marijuana. Veterans who have a doctor’s note for marijuana can receive regular benefits from the government to cover all, or most, of the costs.
Between 2011 and 2013, the number of veterans in the program, as well as its cost, have increased about fourfold, according to an internal briefing note obtained by Postmedia News. In 2013, 121 veterans received assistance for medical pot, at a cost of $353,000 to the department.
Even more veterans use marijuana outside any formal pot program to treat physical pain and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said Mike Blais, founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
“They’re using marijuana rather than anti-psychotic drugs to find that peace,” said Blais, who was recently prescribed marijuana for back pain stemming from an injury while he was a peacekeeper. More veterans want to be in the program and are asking for daily doses beyond what the department feels is safe. Without the cap, “uptake is expected to increase significantly,” reads the June note to Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino.
Although most prescriptions were for five grams a day, between April and June the department received 22 requests for 10 grams a day or higher, according to the briefing note.