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Ottawa bringing in stricter limits on medical marijuana for veterans

Faced with skyrocketing costs and ballooning demand, the federal government is dramatically cutting back the amount of medical marijuana it will cover for veterans.

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr plans to scale back the limit for reimbursement from 10 grams of medical marijuana per day to three. He will make the announcement at the Canadian Military and Veteran Health Research Forum in Vancouver.

Hehr is making the announcement at 11:45 a.m. ET. CBCnews.ca will carry it live.

Last March, Hehr told CBC News he was launching an internal policy review, after data showed the number of medical marijuana prescriptions had shot up — growing more than tenfold in two years. 

Veterans will be allowed to continue charging for their current amount until May 21, 2017. There will also be an exception for veterans in “exceptional circumstances.” A psychiatrist, pain specialist, oncologist or other health specialist would have to submit an application explaining the rationale for a larger quantity.

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Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr is scaling back the amount of medical marijuana that will be covered by his department. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

In another cost-control measure, the department will set a dollar limit that licensed producers can charge based on “fair market value.”

The new policy includes allowing veterans to claim cannabis oil and fresh marijuana, as well as the dried product. That change comes into effect immediately.

Program under scrutiny

There’s been plenty of criticism of the existing program. In his spring 2016 report, the Auditor General said he couldn’t figure out what evidence the department used to set a limit of 10 grams of marijuana per veteran per day. He noted that Health Canada had warned more than five grams per day led to increased health risks. including to the heart and lungs, as well as increased risk of dependence.

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Former NDP MP Peter Stoffer has raised questions about the amount of medical cannabis prescribed by some doctors. He has taken on a role as public affairs advocate for Trauma Healing Centres, a company which advocates using veterans using medical cannabis to deal with chronic pain as well as trauma including PTSD. The group later clarified it was not calling for prescriptions to be “slashed.”

Even a spokesperson for one group that advocates for veterans using medical cannabis suggested 10 grams per day was “an incredible amount” to be prescribing.

The report also noted that just one doctor wrote 29 per cent of the medical marijuana prescriptions in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

​The department’s change in policy comes after consulting with veterans, licensed marijuana producers and medical experts.

Veterans Affairs said the physicians it consulted recommended one or two grams a day was a reasonable amount in the vast majority of cases. It says Health Canada’s data shows the average Canadian is authorized 2.6 grams per day.