Article by Jessica Leeder, The Globe and Mail
It’s 2:30 a.m. and former soldier Chris Reid is walking briskly through torrential rain, down the main commercial strip of Oromocto, past the dormant Tim Hortons, the empty Legion parking lot and a bank of darkened windows at Veterans Affairs.
He sets a quick pace for a man with no place to be. Mr. Reid suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and spends the early hours of most mornings walking these streets lined, in pockets, with unmistakably military cookie-cutter houses.
This town in southwestern New Brunswick draws its lifeblood from the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown. Although Oromocto is home to only about 10,000 residents, most have a military connection in the tightly bound community known for its strength and grit.
That tenacity has shown itself in the battle over veterans’ access to medical cannabis, a battle that has deepened here in recent months, to particularly dark effect.
A few years back, a small group of veterans with PTSD led the transformation of Oromocto into the global ground zero of government-funded marijuana. In 2015, former soldiers here were ordering more medical cannabis than any other veterans in Canada: $2.3-million of it, all paid for by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). At the time, it was the only government department using tax dollars to fund marijuana, even though there was a lack of science to support its use as a medical treatment.
Veterans’ embrace of high daily doses had a ripple effect: New Brunswick vets, who make up fewer than 5 per cent of the country’s former soldiers, billed VAC for nearly $8-million of marijuana that year, almost 40 per cent of the national total.
Now, amid a government effort, which went into full effect last May, to rein in that ballooning medical-marijuana program, Oromocto has morphed into a new ground zero – for the desperate fallout that has unfurled in the wake of that policy change: In 2017, VAC slashed the daily limit of medical cannabis it pays for by 70 per cent.
The impact was swift.
National program costs dropped by more than $12-million that fiscal year, despite a 63-per-cent increase in the number of patients. But in Oromocto, scores of veterans – who had seen their PTSD symptoms stabilize on high daily doses of marijuana – were sent reeling.