Pubdate: Sat, 05 Dec 2015
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: David Pugliese
Page: A12


A former member of Canada's elite counter-terrorism unit has emerged
from the shadows to promote medical marijuana for ailing veterans.

Kevin Whitenect hopes that his message promoting medical cannabis will
bring hope to those former soldiers dealing with emotional or physical
pain as well as reduce the stigma surrounding its use.

"I saw a value for veterans," said Whitenect, who spent most of his 17
years in the Canadian Forces with the Ottawa-based Joint Task Force 2
counter-terrorism unit. "I started speaking with veterans who were
using (medical cannabis) and started hearing the great stories about
how it is getting them off the mind-numbing narcotics they are being

Whitenect is working as a medical marijuana "ambassador" for
CannaConnect, a Toronto-based company that acts as a middleman to
bring together licensed medicinal marijuana producers, doctors, and

Whitenect, who runs his own private security company in Toronto, isn't
receiving any payment for his advocacy. Nor does he use marijuana himself.

But over the years, he has encountered a number of serving and retired
military personnel who are dealing with both post-traumatic stress
disorders as well as pain from physical injuries.

"I'm a 25-year combat veteran and I don't have emotional trauma," he
explained. "I've been very fortunate. But I'm around men who do, and
I'm around men who have chronic pain. The system should start to
understand the damage that has been done to a lot of veterans."

The federal government started paying for medical marijuana for
veterans in 2009, but its acceptance has been an uphill battle.

The Canadian Medical Association has argued there isn't enough
research to show how much marijuana is a safe amount for a patient to

Former Conservative Veterans Affairs minister Julian Fantino dismissed
marijuana as a serious health risk, pointing out it is not an approved
drug in Canada.

Fantino's successor, Erin O'Toole, said earlier this year that
marijuana is harmful and there is no proof it helps former soldiers
deal with PTSD. But O'Toole, a former member of the Canadian Forces,
did concede there is some evidence it can be used to treat chronic

The new Liberal government has promised to legalize

Whitenect said he decided to do his own research and talk to ailing
veterans who use marijuana. They spoke highly of the results they get
from cannabis.

Whitenect doesn't see medical marijuana as a cure for PTSD. But it can

"It's an alternative for narcotics which just knock people out, which
don't actually help people be functional," he explained. "I opened my
mind up and looked at it. I saw that it really does help vets."

Last month, U.S. lawmakers cleared the way for doctors to authorize
medical marijuana for veterans. Before the new law came in, the U.S.
Veterans Health Administration would not allow its doctors to even
discuss medical marijuana as an option for patients in the states that
allow its use.

Whitenect, who retired 10 years ago from the Canadian military, said
he hopes to use his special forces background as a way to break down
the stigma that might be associated with using medical cannabis.

Shane Urowitz, vice president of business development for
CannaConnect, said having a former member of JTF2 associated with the
firm is already getting attention from veterans.

"The stamp of Kevin's military pedigree is breaking down the stigma
for his fellow brothers and sisters to go ahead and try the
medication," he said. "They feel comfortable knowing that there's a
guy who was in JTF2 endorsing what they are doing."

Whitenect wondered what the response would be from the close-knit
special forces community. "I thought I would get a mixed reaction but
I actually got positive responses," he said. "The community has been
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