Association Québécoise de l'Industrie du Cannabis
  • Ottawa to pay $200 million a year in cannabis for veterans

Ottawa to pay $200 million a year in cannabis for veteransEconomy

Publié le 7 August 2022 par AQIC

Ottawa is reimbursing a record number of veterans for their use of medical cannabis, as new data reveals that the federal government paid more than $150 million in the last fiscal year.

That's more than twice the amount paid just three years ago.

And it's just the beginning, according to Veterans Affairs projections that the government is on track to spend nearly $200 million on cannabis this year as more and more service members submit claims for treatment.

While experts and advocacy groups admit they are unsure of the reasons behind this surge in demand, they agree that there is a need for more knowledge about the actual benefits and possible risks of marijuana use by veterans, especially because taxpayers are footing the bill.

"We desperately need more studies to find out whether these policies and current use are likely to do more good or more harm," observes McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote Center for Medical Cannabis Research Deputy Director Jason Busse.

"We don't know that at this point." - deputy director of McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote Medical Cannabis Research Centre

Veterans Affairs Canada began reimbursing a small number of ex-military personnel for their cannabis use in 2008. At that time, approvals were granted on an extremely limited basis and only with a physician's recommendation.

Legal exceptions

This followed a series of court rulings, going back more than 20 years, that opened the door to the first legal exceptions allowing cannabis use for medical reasons and protecting patients from criminal prosecution.

Then, in 2014, Health Canada relaxed its rules regarding the authority to grant permission to use cannabis for medical purposes as well as the reasons for using it. These new guidelines did not impose limits on the amount of cannabis consumed or the cost.

At the time, Veterans Affairs Canada was reimbursing 112 ex-servicemen for an annual bill of $409,000. By the following year, the numbers had jumped to 600 users, for a total bill of over $1.7 million. According to data provided by the department to Minister Lawrence MacAulay last June, the government reimbursed more than 18,000 former military personnel for a total of $153 million in cannabis in 2021-2022. For fiscal year 2022-2023, program spending is estimated at $195.2 million, the memo states.

This cost explosion continues despite a 2016 decision by the Liberal government to limit applications to three grams per day and a value of $8.50 per gram. Special permission with a doctor's recommendation can allow for a maximum of ten grams per day.

The imposition of these limits had raised the ire of veterans and advocacy groups who argued that the measure would have harmful consequences. According to the memo prepared for the Minister, one in five military veterans is allowed more than three grams per day.

By comparison, Health Canada reports that the number of Canadians registered as medical cannabis users, whose expenses are normally reimbursed by private insurers, fell from 345,000 in October 2018 to 257,000 last December.

Explosion in use

Officials with the Veterans Transition Network, a British Columbia-based organization that provides support and counseling services to former members of the Canadian Armed Forces, have witnessed the explosion in use over the past few years.

"Seeing these growth numbers year over year, to me, it's consistent with what we're seeing in the way it's become common in the veteran community." - Oliver Thorne, executive director of the Veterans Transition Network

The network's national clinic director, Dr. Paul Whitehead, estimates that about half of the veterans in the organization's programs use some form of cannabis for medical reasons. However, the exact reasons, frequency and dosage vary widely from person to person.

Experts cite a wide range of reasons for the rise in use, including the COVID-19 pandemic, greater awareness, less stigma, and the emergence of a multi-million dollar industry.

Source : Radio-Canada, La Presse Canadienne : https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1903788/canada-militaires-marijuana-therapeutique-depense-consommation