Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Interesting look at veterans getting involved in the marijuana industry

BuzzFeed News recently had this lengthy article about veterans getting involved in the modern marijuana industry. The full headline of the piece serves as a summary: "For These Veterans, Growing Pot Isn't Just A Job, It's A Cause: For veterans learning to cultivate marijuana through a Los Angeles grower's internship program, it's personal. They want to push for medical cannabis to become an option for veterans with PTSD."  Here is an excerpt:

In interviews with BuzzFeed News, several [vets] described visiting Veterans Affairs clinics to seek help for physical pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia and immediately being prescribed opiates and other addictive medications.

“The pills I was receiving from the VA — I could not work, I would take them and fall asleep standing up,” said Brett Miller, a 35-year-old former US Marine and THC Design cultivation intern. “I no longer have that problem, because I no longer take them. Since then I’ve been to many talks with different groups of veterans, and you can really see how it brings a calm to what disturbs a lot of vets.”

Similarly, [Steven] Passmore said “the first thing the VA did is give me a bunch of pills,” including opiates for his clavicle pain. His parents, a retired EMT firefighter and a nurse, “looked at them and said ‘I wouldn’t take these if I were you,'” he said. After doing some research on more natural alternatives, Passmore, who describes himself as a “straight arrow,” decided to try marijuana.

“I was spiraling,” he said. “I was working a retail job that wasn’t paying me enough to survive. I was disconnected from everyone in my life, my family, my lifelong friends. I thought no way, there’s no way pot is going to fix all of these problems, but what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Unlike the VA-prescribed painkillers, he says, marijuana allowed him to manage his pain and get his life back together. “Slowly but surely I pulled my own head out of my ass and reconnected with the people who mattered most to me in my life,” he said.

Their experiences with the VA are common among military veterans. Currently, there are about 2.7 million US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and at least 20% suffer from PTSD. At the same time, VA prescriptions of four potent opiates — hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and morphine — have more than tripled since 9/11, according to a 2013 report by the Center for Investigative Reporting. In 2016 alone, the VA treated 66,000 ex-servicemen and women for opioid addiction.

For THC Design cofounder Ryan Jennemann, it’s also personal. After years of using opiates prescribed by his doctor, his father died from heart failure at 47. His father was a big advocate of medical marijuana, Jennemann said, but wasn’t able to take advantage of it as a treatment since it was illegal in Oklahoma, where he lived.

Another THC intern, National Guard veteran Dustin Beluscak, saw the opposite scenario play out with his father, a Vietnam veteran who was prescribed opiates for cancer pain in the last years of his life. When he was prescribed cannabis in 2004, he was at least able to eat and speak.

Medical benefits aside, many veterans at THC Design say the very act of spending all day growing plants has had surprisingly positive effects — although they joke they “wouldn’t be as excited if we were growing tomatoes.”...

Michael Garcia, a 33-year-old US Navy veteran, said the last few weeks working with growers at the facility has felt different from any other job. “Camaraderie was something that was really big in the military, and it was something that I really didn’t feel until I came back and started working here,” he said. “People working together, everyone giving 100%, its nice.”

Like many of the interns, Garcia heard about the program through the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, a veteran-owned medical marijuana collective. Now, as they begin to build careers in the cannabis industry, many say they’re actively working to change the stigma surrounding marijuana for veterans. “At one point if you had a conversation with your primary care doctor about cannabis, it would jeopardize your benefits for the VA,” Miller said. “A lot of veterans are still unaware of the rules, and that’s why veterans are instrumental in the push for cannabis to become legal all across the country.”

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2017/10/interesting-look-at-veterans-getting-involved-in-the-marijuana-industry.html

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