To protest against and draw attention to the proposed reduction of medical cannabis reimbursement from Veteran’s Affairs Canada, Fabian Henry is walking from Moncton, New Brunswick, to Ottawa.
Henry is the CEO and Founder of Marijuana for Trauma (MFT), a private, veteran-owned medical cannabis resource centre that helps educate people how to access and understand cannabis for various issues, specializing in PTSD. The proposed changes, he says, puts Veterans who are finding success with medical cannabis at risk.
Last November, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr announced the federal government was cutting the amount of medical cannabis provided to veterans from 10 grams to 3 grams per day. VAC covers the cost of medical cannabis to approved veterans and the program had grown from a handful of participants in 2008, with a cost of about $19,000, to over 3,000 last year, with $31 million in claims. Department officials said that amount was set to rise to $75 million by the end of 2016. The average amount of cannabis prescribed under Health Canada's medical cannabis program is just under 3 grams a day, according to Health Canada figures.
Veterans like Henry, however, who have seen firsthand the benefit of cannabis on those struggling with issues like PTSD, say the cost is not as important as people’s lives. These lives are put at risk by these proposed cuts, he says, as they have come to rely on cannabis as they move off of “pharmaceutical medications.”
To protest these changes, he’s been walking every day since Dec. 12 in remembrance of those who died in Afghanistan, he says, posting pictures on social media each day of the soldier he is walking for, as well as images from his walk.
After each day of walking, usually covering about 10 km a day, Henry returns home to New Brunswick, coming back to start again the next day. He’s timed it to take 158 days from New Brunswick to Ottawa and will begin living on the road on March 20th when he reaches the Quebec border. Henry chose 158 because one hundred and fifty-eight Canadian Armed Forces members lost their lives in service while participating in Canada’s military efforts in Afghanistan.
“When they made the announcement in November, I was absolutely furious, so I set off on a 158-day campaign for the 158 that died in Afghanistan,” says the 13 year Canadian Forces veteran.
Once he makes it to the Quebec border, he will be ‘deploying full time,’ as he calls it, living on the road in a converted bus overnight, while walking each day to Ottawa. Once they reach Ottawa, they will take their message to the Hill to ask the government to hold off on changes while they look into more research.
“All we’re asking for is for them to do is press pause until they do the proper clinical research to prove exactly where it should be,” says Henry.
“It’s bad enough we have to fight for financial benefits and our spouses need help, but when they start taking away our treatment and our life-saving medication, that’s where we draw the line.”
On May 18th, he says he and a few thousand others are going to walk from the MFT Ottawa location to the Hill, to put pressure on the government to hold off on the changes.
On Monday, Henry was at a town hall meeting with Justin Trudeau in Fredericton, NB, and had a chance to ask the Prime Minister about the changes to the program. Trudeau reportedly said there were previously no caps on the program, and that the new limits were still very high.
“Before there were no limits on the amount of cannabis veterans could consume and get reimbursed for, now we’ve put in some very, very high limits,” Trudeau told Henry during their exchange.
Henry says this is untrue, pointing out there was already a 10 gram-a-day limit set in January 2016. It’s unclear if Trudeau was referring to the changes imposed in January, or the more recent changes to three grams a day last November (video of part of the exchange available here).
“First of all, I asked a question about medical cannabis and he started off by talking about recreational marijuana, which is not what I asked him. Then he said there was no cap and veterans could get as much as they wanted and that’s an outright lie. As of January 21, 2016, VAC had a 10 gram-a-day policy in place... So he lied.”
“Secondly, he’s saying that the evidence-based research they’re going by, that he considers three grams to be high and that is ridiculous because there is no malignant PTSD research right now, so whatever he’s quoting is a bunch of bullshit. Show me the research done on a bunch of PTSD veterans that says we only need three grams a day.”
Henry says he went on a short test run in the converted bus this weekend in preparation for running with a small team full time on March 20. More information is available here: http://marchtoparliament.com.