Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Veterans Affairs Data Gives Detailed Picture of Veterans Using Medical Marijuana

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Veterans Affairs Data Gives Detailed Picture of Veterans Using Medical Marijuana

Article excerpt

Data details veterans medical pot use

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OTTAWA - When he opened a medical marijuana shop in Kingston earlier this year, Trevor Hands had little idea who his customers would be, how much they would buy or how his business would grow simply through word of mouth.

He does now.

Business is booming for Hands, thanks in large part to an influx of business from a single demographic: former Canadian Forces soldiers.

A review of Veterans Affairs Canada data on medical marijuana users, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, suggests the number of users has grown most dramatically in those parts of the country where marijuana shops and clubs cater to a local population of military veterans.

Are those businesses simply meeting demand -- or creating it?

Usage rates -- and the commensurate federal costs -- are generally higher in those areas where the stigma and barriers to medical marijuana use have been lowered or eliminated, said Zach Walsh, a University of British Columbia psychology professor.

Marijuana clubs and shops play a key role in removing those barriers, he said.

"The reason we see higher concentrations in areas where it's promoted is because it gives the individuals with PTSD the opportunity to find out that it works," Walsh said.

Veterans are proving well-educated about the potential benefits of pot, said Mike Southwell, vice-president of Marijuana for Trauma, which helps clients to understand the drug and navigate the federal benefits program that pays for it.

Once cannabis helps one veteran, they tell two others, and so on and so on, said Southwell.

"If a veteran tells another veteran about something that is working for disability, you can be guaranteed that they will tell a hundred other vets."

It's that kind of growth the federal government wants to get under control. The Liberals are expected to announce changes to the medical marijuana program in the coming weeks after years of exponential growth -- and soaring costs.

This year, the program is expected to carry a price tag of $25 million.

In 2008, when the government first started covering the cost of medical marijuana, Veterans Affairs had licensed users in only five so-called "forward sortation" areas, defined by the first three characters of a postal code. …

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