Nearly two-thirds of the money the federal government spent on medical marijuana last year went to veterans in Atlantic Canada — a region with comparatively few veterans.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, the federal department spent $5.2 million on medical marijuana for veterans in the last fiscal year. Of that, almost $3.4 million — or 65 per cent — went to veterans in Atlantic Canada.
Meanwhile, the number of veterans living in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and P.E.I. accounts for less than 14 per cent of the total number in Canada.
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Fabian Henry, a former Canadian Forces member, takes responsibility for helping to introduce medical marijuana to East Coast veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
His company, Marijuana for Trauma, connects veterans with physicians willing to authorize medical cannabis. The organization has helped hundreds of vets fill out forms for medical pot reimbursement from Veterans Affairs Canada.
"I almost became a statistic myself, along with several of my friends," said Henry. "I don't want to see another name on TV of a suffering vet and know that I didn't do my absolute best to reach out and help that person."
Fabian says he doesn't charge veterans. Some of his services are billable to Veterans Affairs Canada; he also says he relies on loans and donations.
'We're directly responsible'
Marijuana for Trauma set up shop in Oromocto, N.B., on March 1, 2014. In the fiscal year following that opening, the number of veterans in Atlantic Canada who received money from Veterans Affairs for medical marijuana jumped from 55 to 352.
That number is more than half of the total number of veterans receiving cash for cannabis across the country.
"We're directly responsible and I'm OK with that," said Henry, who did six tours during his 12 years with the military.
"This is a veterans helping veterans organization and that's our focus. If it saved my life and gave me relief, how many other guys are suffering that don't know about this plant?"
It was during his second tour in Afghanistan that Henry developed post-traumatic stress disorder and "walked the suicide line." He said traditional treatments didn't work for him and medical cannabis was the only treatment that relieved his symptoms.
Now he's on a mission to bring the drug to others. If his expansion plans go through, the federal government could be facing a much higher medical marijuana bill next year.
'I'm expecting thousands'
Henry said he doesn't plan on stopping until there is cannabis "equality" for all veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I'm expecting thousands to be coming through the door in the coming years, hundreds in the coming months," he said.
Marijuana for Trauma recently opened sites in St. John's and Markham, Ont. Next month, one will open in Sydney, N.S. He plans to set up shop in Halifax this summer and soon after in Victoria, Valcartier and Edmonton.
In five years, Henry hopes to have 50 sites open, each with a veteran running it.
In the past year, some of the veterans who have visited Henry's New Brunswick operation have travelled from P.E.I. and Quebec to see the physician who works with him to authorize medical marijuana prescriptions.
Chris Dupee, who lives in Ontario, drove 14 hours each way in January to obtain the doctor's services. He's now at the helm of the Markham site.
Like Henry, Dupee said medical cannabis has stemmed the symptoms that turned him into a "hermit," including anxiety and depression,
"My life's changed," he said. "I can honestly say that. He's given me quite an opportunity to lead this chapter up and I'm really proud of it."
By the numbers
Amounts for reimbursement of veterans in the Atlantic provinces:
- Fiscal year ending March 2014: $200,606.
- Fiscal year ending March 2015: $3,381,091.
Veterans Affairs client counts for marijuana for medical purposes:
- Fiscal year ending March 2014: 116 clients, including 55 from the four Atlantic provinces.
- Fiscal year ending March 2015: 653 clients, including 352 from the four Atlantic provinces.