Pubdate: Wed, 10 Aug 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: S1
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager


Despite a Top Court Decision Giving Canadians the Right to Use 
Extracts, Ottawa Only Reimburses Veterans for Dried Products

Despite a Supreme Court of Canada decision that gives sick Canadians 
the right to use medical cannabis oils, Ottawa is reimbursing the 
country's veterans for dried pot only, potentially pushing them to 
less healthy options of smoking or vaporizing the drug.

That has prompted a group of commercial medical marijuana growers to 
urge Ottawa to expand medical marijuana coverage for former soldiers 
- - a small but lucrative patient base for Canada's two dozen licensed 
producers - to include the ingestible oils.

More than 1,700 veterans have access to the largest publicly funded 
medical marijuana plan in the country, but they are covered only for 
the plant's dried flower. They have to use their own money for the 
oils. Licensed growers started selling the oils last year after the 
Supreme Court ruled Health Canada was putting sick people at risk of 
cancer and bronchial infections by sanctioning only dried buds.

"We've never heard a good reason why [oils are] not being covered," 
said Philippe Lucas, executive director of the Canadian Medical 
Cannabis Council, a trade group representing four licensed commercial growers.

Mr. Lucas, also head of patient services at Nanaimo-based grower 
Tilray, recently launched an e-petition sponsored by his local MP, 
New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson, asking Veterans Affairs to begin 
covering these extracts. Advocates have long argued that the correct 
doses of edibles can offer many hours of relief from symptoms. In 
contrast, they say those who smoke the drug must consume their doses 
much more frequently over a similar period.

A spokesman for the Department said in an e-mailed statement that 
"using marijuana for medicinal purposes is a new and emerging area in 
the medical field.

"As such, there is no commonly accepted practice for the use or 
dosage of specific products," the statement said.

The spokesman added that Veterans Affairs will announce its overhaul 
of the existing rules "in the near future." Veterans Affairs Minister 
Kent Hehr said he was "shocked" in March when he learned of an 
explosion in the number of veterans being reimbursed for medical marijuana.

The trend is largely fuelled by groups in the Atlantic provinces 
connecting former soldiers who have post-traumatic stress disorder 
with licensed growers.

Trevor Bungay, a veteran of the Afghan war and a vice-president of 
Trauma Healing Centres, a network of four clinics that sign up former 
soldiers for medical pot, said many of his clients cannot afford to 
pay for their medicine.

"A lot of veterans are just receiving a pension, which is really 
nothing compared to what your regular paycheque was," he said.

Mr. Lucas said a recent survey of Tilray's veteran patients found 
about half ordered cannabis oils when the company launched the new 
extracts in March, believing Ottawa would cover them.

In late April, he said, bills the company sent to Veterans Affairs 
for these orders were returned without payment or explanation.

Tilray absorbed the costs, but informed the veterans it would not 
cover further orders, Mr. Lucas said.

Orders from those patients fell from 183 bottles in March to just 
four last month, he said.

Mr. Bungay added that many clients find it too difficult to make 
their own extracts or edible products out of dried marijuana.

"It's the same as brewing your own wine and your own beer - most 
people don't know how to do it and can't do it right," Mr. Bungay said.

Mr. Bungay and Mr. Lucas said the cost of medical marijuana is offset 
because many former soldiers are using it instead of pharmaceutical 
options such as opioids (for pain relief) and benzodiazepines (for 
anxiety and insomnia), which, in North America have been 
over-prescribed and often diverted to the illegal drug trade.

Soldiers have told The Globe that pot has also allowed them to ditch 
their erectile-dysfunction prescriptions - also covered by Ottawa - 
and led to other benefits as well.

Government data released to The Globe and Mail in June showed that, 
over the past four years, the number of veterans prescribed 
benzodiazepines - with brands such as Xanax, Ativan and Valium - 
decreased nearly 30 per cent. Opioid prescriptions also shrank almost 
17 per cent during that period.

The set of statistics was too small and unrefined to prove any 
concrete links between the use of the three drugs. But U.S. research 
has also shown significant declines in opioid overdoses in states 
where medical marijuana has been legalized, according to addiction experts.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom