Veterans’ reimbursement for medical marijuana to be ‘substantially’ reduced as bill soars
Veterans Affairs Canada is set to “reduce substantially” the amount of medical marijuana for which retired soldiers can seek reimbursement, after new projections revealed the cost is set to rise to $90 million — 18 times more than the amount paid out two years ago.
The program under which veterans could access marijuana for medical purposes was introduced in 2008-09 and by the end of the year there were just five recipients being reimbursed $19,000.
A government source, not authorized to speak publicly, said there are currently 3,300 users — double the number from official statistics released in March — and the department has projected the program will cost $90 million in the current fiscal year, if trends continue. To put that in context, the government spends approximately $247 million a year on all health treatments for veterans.
Kent Hehr, the Veterans Affairs minister, said in March he would review the issue and he is expected to announce a dramatic reduction in the amount the department will reimburse from the current 10 grams a day. It is understood veterans will still be able to access whatever amount of marijuana authorized by their doctor but the government will not reimburse at current levels, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The government has not publicly made the allegation but a source suggested that, while many veterans are using the drug for legitimate pain relief, others may be stockpiling or reselling it.
The source said the problem would have been well-known to the Conservatives — the amount reimbursed jumped from $409,000 in 2013-14 to $5.1 million a year later. That figure leapt again to $20.5 million in 2015-16, when the Conservatives were in power for eight months.
The suspicion is the Harper government did not want to aggravate a veterans’ community that had already turned against it over the closure of eight offices across Canada.
Veterans need the authorization of a medical practitioner to qualify for reimbursement. One doctor in New Brunswick authorized almost 40 per cent of the 1,762 recipients in the last fiscal year.
Hehr is likely to say there will more careful monitoring of the medical marijuana program in future.
“A graph of the number of dollars expended looks like a hockey stick. That number will be substantially reduced from the current cap. And if there is more trouble, there will be further fences,” said the government source.