Canada to Pay for Military Veterans Medical Marijuana

The military may strictly forbid marijuana use by its soldiers, but the federal government has decided to pay for medical cannabis for some veterans.

Veterans Affairs has reversed a previous ban, now saying it “may provide payment in relation to the associated costs of medically required marijuana to clients who have qualified.”

Payments can be made only to veterans licensed by Health Canada to possess medical marijuana, and who buy government-certified cannabis produced on contract by a firm in Flin Flon, Man.

The policy change was approved last October, but is only now being communicated to veterans who require the product for pain management and other severe medical conditions.

About eight veterans licensed by Health Canada are having their medical marijuana bills picked up by taxpayers, said Janice Summerby, spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs.

She was unable to say immediately how much the new policy was costing the department.

“These guys (the federal government) want to stand up for veterans’ rights,” said Bruce Webb, a Comox, B.C., veteran who successfully pressed Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson for the about-face.

“They want to help.”

Webb, a former air force corporal who received a medical discharge in 2002, said the new payment policy will cover the $490 monthly cannabis bill he faces while struggling on a disability pension.

He could not afford the cost of his daily three-gram marijuana medication, but now is renewing his expired Health Canada licence to take advantage of the payment program.

Webb, 46, said he learned of the change in a letter from Thompson last week, and is trying to get the word out to hundred of veterans he says could benefit.

Veterans Affairs has previously paid the costs of some synthetic forms of cannabis that have been certified as prescription drugs in Canada.

The Health Canada-approved marijuana, currently produced on contract by Prairie Plant Systems Inc., has been criticized as too weak and dry by some users.

But Webb praised the product, saying it makes an “amazing difference” in controlling pain caused by his sports injury from 1999.

Health Canada has been forced by a series of court decisions this decade to set up a program to license medical marijuana users, and to provide government-certified dope to users at a cost.

Patients have also been allowed to grow medical marijuana for themselves, or have someone else grow it for them under licence.

Health Canada, which eventually wants to phase out personal production, recently lost a court case over restrictions preventing licensed growers from serving more than one patient.

– Article from the Canadian Press on May 14, 2009.

Veterans Affairs to Cover Cost of Cannabis

Bruce Webb, a Canadian war veteran living in Comox B.C., recently received a letter informing him of Veterans Affairs Canada’s new policy to cover the cost of medical cannabis. Webb enthusiastically expressed his gratitude to the Honourable Greg Thompson, P.C. M.P., Minister of Veterans Affairs, on YouTube.

The letter received by Webb states: “As a disability pensioner, you are only entitled to coverage of prescription drugs listed on Veterans Affairs Canada’s formularies. However, the Department may consider covering medications that are not on the list if an exceptional need for the product is demonstrated.

It may be of interest to know that the Department made changes to its policy with respect to the provision of medical marijuana, and may now cover the costs of this product for clients who have qualified under the MMAR, administered by Health Canada. In order to qualify for coverage of this non-listed product, a client must be approved by Health Canada, to possess and use marihuana for medical purposes; the product must be obtained from Health Canada in accordance with its requirements; and the client must have obtained pre-authorization from Veterans Affairs Canada.”

In the YouTube video, Webb says “It is a medication, it is a proved medication, it’s grown by the government of Canada, for the people of Canada, at taxpayers’ expense. All veterans, anyone that needs this stuff should have a right to do it. This man is a compassionate member of parliament. Mr. Thompson, thank you”.

Canadians for Safe Access, a patients’ advocacy organization, also commends Veterans Affairs Canada for this new policy. “For many, this medicine is more effective than the available alternatives, with fewer negative side-effects. It is so important that the cost for this medicine is covered for those in need,” stated Rielle Capler, a director of Canadians for Safe Access. Veterans use cannabis for various medical conditions and symptoms including chronic and phantom limb pain, sleep disturbance, brain injuries, Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

Webb had been ordering cannabis from Health Canada between 2004 and 2006, but Health Canada cut him off because he was unable to pay for it. Canadians for Safe Access has previously encouraged the Health Canada to cover costs after finding out that many people who have ordered the government’s supply are unable to afford it and have been cut off from accessing this sole legal source.

There are still many barriers to accessing Health Canada’s medical cannabis program. Of an estimated 400,000 to one million people who use cannabis medically in Canada, only about 3,000 currently have a license from Health Canada. A small fraction of those order their cannabis through Health Canada. Many who have tried the government supply have deemed it inadequate.

A recent federal court ruling has ordered changes to the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations that could end the government’s monopoly supply. To date, Health Canada has not complied with the ruling. In the meantime, the vast majority of those using cannabis medicinally, and those who supply them, are subject to criminal sanctions that would include mandatory minimum sentences under the Conservative’s proposed Bill C-15.