The cost of providing medical marijuana to the country’s injured soldiers under a Veterans Affairs program jumped to more than $4.3 million this fiscal year, an increase of 10 times what was spent last year.
And the number of ex-soldiers eligible for taxpayer-funded, prescribed pot more than quadrupled to 601 patients, according to figures released by the department.
The numbers represent a dramatic escalation, even from last fall, when former veterans minister Julian Fantino was told in a briefing note that there were 224 approved cases.
At the beginning of the last budget year there were 116 eligible veterans.
In 2013-14, the government spent $417,000 on medical marijuana for soldiers, said the briefing obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information legislation.
The jaw-dropping increases may represent a conundrum for Health Canada, which routinely warns against marijuana use, and the ruling Conservatives who have ridiculed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign for overall legalization of marijuana.
In a statement, a Veterans Affairs spokeswoman stood by the program, pointing to government documents explaining that even though the government does not want to see marijuana used as medicine, the courts have ordered patients to have access to it if prescribed.
“Marijuana for medical purposes is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada and Health Canada does not endorse or promote the use of marijuana,” said Janice Summerby in an email. “However, [Veterans Affairs] will support eligible veterans by reimbursing the cost of marijuana for medical purposes if their physician deems it is an appropriate treatment for the veteran’s health condition and authorizes its use in accordance with Health Canada’s regulations.”
Some vets choosing medical pot over pharmaceuticals
Throughout much of last year, there was a growing debate within the veterans department about how much would be covered by the program, introduced in 2008, and whether it should be capped or even cancelled outright.
Fantino, who has since been replaced by Erin O’Toole as minister, was presented with four different options, including dropping the policy, but retaining existing clients; or eliminating it altogether.
‘Right now, normal Canadians, never mind veterans, do not have enough access from the licensed producers from the program that’s been put in place to supply us our medication.’– Clayton Goodwin, former reservist
In a pamphlet sent to constituents last year, Fantino claimed Trudeau wants to “make buying marijuana a normal, everyday activity for young Canadians” and even charged that the Liberal leader wants to allow the sale of pot in corner stores. More at Source