May 8th, 2018
New Brunswick veterans with PTSD are preparing to take the federal government to court in hopes of winning a declaration that Veteran’s Affairs Canada violated their rights when it reduced the amount of medicinal marijuana it would cover.
Members of the group use the drug to treat their service-related injuries. In an unusual move, instead of seeking payments for damages, the veterans plan to ask a federal court to rule that VAC violated its obligation to vets last May, when it reduced the daily allowance of medical cannabis by 70 per cent, from 10 grams to three.
David Lutz, the Saint John-based lawyer who is representing the plaintiffs, said they want to be compensated for enough cannabis to avoid resorting to prescription drugs to control symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions. The lawsuit, which has yet to be filed, could also seek a declaration that VAC must address the rights violation by restoring funding to its previous level.
“We are asking for a declaration by the court that reducing from 10 grams to three grams is a violation of the government’s obligation to the veterans,” Mr. Lutz said. “We need to make a new law here.”
When the cuts were instituted last May, more than 2,500 veterans across the country had authorization to use more than three grams of medicinal marijuana a day to treat symptoms of PTSD, chronic pain and more, even though scientific evidence on its use as a treatment is scant.
The cuts forced all of those veterans onto lower doses and many former soldiers told The Globe and Mail they tried to take their own lives to avoid relapsing with uncontrollable symptoms. Some followed through, including one veteran who told his family he could not survive on the reduced dose and killed himself after just one week.
One year later, funding has been restored for nearly half of the veterans whose coverage was cut to three grams, in many cases up to 10 grams a day. Those who have signed onto the effort to launch a class-action lawsuit – which is being funded by Veterans for Healing, an advocacy and support organization in Oromocto, N.B. – want to ensure nothing similar happens to vets in the future.
“It’s not about money, it’s about doing what’s right,” said Jamie Keating, a Saint John-based veteran who will be the named plaintiff. It is also backed by well-known veteran and cannabis advocate Fabian Henry. “You can’t just cut vets off cold turkey when something works,” Mr. Keating said, adding: “If it was opiates, they wouldn’t be able to just stop.”
Costs of VAC’s medical marijuana had skyrocketed to more than $60-million – making it the most costly item in the department’s drug-benefit program – and the lack of science to support using cannabis as a treatment factored prominently in the decision to scale back.