War veterans fight to clear stigma around medical marijuana

Touted as a wonder drug for the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, medical marijuana use is exploding among Canada’s battle-scarred, fully insured, veterans and companies are rushing into the untapped market.

 

He has served in one capacity or another in seven conflicts, killed and captured countless enemy fighters and was a founding member of Canada’s top-secret counterterrorism unit, Joint Task Force 2.

But Kevin Whitenect, 48, is coming out of the shadows for his newest mission: that of “brand ambassador” for a Toronto-based medical marijuana company, CannaConnect.

Along Highway 401, a short drive from CFB Trenton, the Canadian military’s main transportation hub, retired Warrant Officer Robert Kennedy is also settling into an unlikely role.

After a 28-year career with the Royal Canadian Dragoons came to an end last summer due to a mix of post-traumatic stress, chronic pain and OxyContin prescriptions, he found himself one morning this week helping to organize a cooking class showing ailing veterans how to incorporate marijuana into their culinary routines.

“We’re looking at the longevity of people because if you can eat certain stuff and it’s not brownies and sweets—it’s healthy stuff,” said Kennedy, the volunteer manager with Marijuana for Trauma Trenton, one of several outlets the New Brunswick-based company operates in eastern Canada. “You can put it in a shake and the troops are happy, the vets are happy—and they’re healthy.”

Both men are at the sharp end of the spear, as soldier-types like to say of those headed into battle. Theirs is a sort of rescue mission, with the goal of clearing the stigma around medical marijuana in order to help their ill and injured comrades whether from the Afghan war or from as far back as deployment to Bosnia in the late 1990s.

But they are also on the front lines of a booming and largely untapped market, acting as agents of companies that are looking for former soldiers who are covered in full by the federal government for medicinal marijuana prescriptions.

In the two years that Veterans Affairs Canada has been reimbursing clients with a prescription for medicinal marijuana, there has been a nearly sixfold increase in the number of cases, a departmental official told the Star.

But the cost last year of paying for prescribed pot topped $5 million, 12 times higher than the previous year, mostly because of increases in the price of marijuana. The increasing popularity could see those numbers continue to increase.

Shane Urowitz, CannaConnect’s vice-president of business development, says his upstart company is bringing in about 25 new veterans each month from as far afield as Sherbrooke, Que., Sudbury, Ont., and Oromocto, N.B.

“One guy becomes a client. He wakes up in a few weeks or a couple of months and his life is a bit better and he tells his buddy at the legion or in the motorcycle group or whatever it is, and you get pockets of these guys,” he said.

In most cases, those veterans turning to medical marijuana have run out of patience and hope in the pharmaceutical cocktails made up of sleeping pills, antidepressants and antipsychotics that may treat their symptoms but can also create other problems, not least of which is dependency, Urowitz said.

“They’re on a Skittles bag worth of pills and they’re depressed, they’re drooling, there’s no quality of life there.”

Read more here: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/01/04/war-veterans-fight-to-clear-stigma-around-medical-marijuana.html