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Canadian Veterans Plan Lawsuit Over Medical Marijuana Funding Cuts

Veterans Affairs Canada have significantly reduced the daily allowance of medical marijuana that veterans may have. And now, the veterans are fighting back.

A.J. Herrington

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A group of Canadian veterans is planning to file a lawsuit over medical marijuana funding cuts by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). In May of last year, the VAC reduced the amount of medicinal cannabis it would cover. Before that, the VAC would permit vets to use up to ten grams of medical marijuana per day. But the VAC dropped that permitted daily allotment to just three grams.

When the cut was enacted, more than 2,500 veterans nationwide had received permission to use more than three grams per day.

The advocacy group Veterans for Healing in Oromocto, New Brunswick is organizing the legal action. The vets plan to ask the court to rule that the VAC failed to live up to its responsibilities with the reduction.

David Lutz is the attorney representing the vets. He told local media that the veterans want the VAC to cover enough cannabis to eliminate the need for prescription drugs. They would also like to see the court restore funding for medical marijuana to previous levels.

“We are asking for a declaration by the court that reducing from 10 grams to three grams is a violation of the government’s obligation to the veterans,” Lutz said. “We need to make a new law here.”

Jamie Keating, a veteran living in St. John, will be a named plaintiff in the suit. He said that the VAC needs to honor its commitment to care for vets.

“It’s not about money, it’s about doing what’s right,” said Keating. “You can’t just cut vets off cold turkey when something works. If it was opiates, they wouldn’t be able to just stop.”

Soldiers Are Using Cannabis to Treat PTSD

Veterans like Keating are using medicinal cannabis to treat a variety of serious health conditions. Vets are finding relief from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, and anxiety with medical marijuana. So much so that prior to the cuts, payments for medical marijuana had grown to $60 million per year. That made cannabis the most expensive item in the VAC’s drug coverage program. But while costs for cannabis increased, payments for opioids and benzodiazepines dropped.

Seamus O’Regan, the Minister of Foreign affairs, said the cut in the medical marijuana benefit was more about science than money.

“We still have a heck of a lot of research to do when it comes to cannabis use and how it affects PTSD and other mental-health conditions,” O’Regan said.

To prepare for that argument in court, attorney Lutz said he is compiling anecdotal evidence on the efficacy of medical marijuana. He and his staff are in the process of interviewing up to 100 vets to learn about and document their experience with medical marijuana. Lutz noted that the vets participating in the lawsuit had to start taking other drugs when their coverage for cannabis was reduced to three grams daily.

“The theme here is plants, not pills,” Lutz said. “Medical marijuana has replaced every pill that these people were on before. I expect to be able to demonstrate that,” he said.

Ron Forrest is a vet who uses cannabis to treat PTSD and chronic pain. He also plans to be a plaintiff in the lawsuit. He said that for some veterans, access to medical cannabis is a matter of life or death.

“There was no reason for VAC to cut us back that drastically,” he said. “We had people kill themselves.”

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