“CANNABIS IS NOT ON THE LIST OF VA-APPROVED MEDICATIONS AT THIS TIME, SO VETERANS ARE FINDING CREATIVE WAYS TO GAIN ACCESS TO IT.”
WRITER •ABIGAIL ROSS
ETERANS, AND those currently serving, experience higher rates of anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, insomnia and substance abuse than civilians. The United States Department of Veteran Affairs estimate that PTSD afflicts almost 31% of Vietnam veterans, 10% of Gulf War veterans and 11% of veterans from the war in Afghanistan. Although the United States Department of Affairs is designed to provide veterans with healthcare, they are notoriously backed up with patients. This often means veterans with mental health issues can be on a very long waitlist to receive healthcare, which may be a reason that suicide rates remain so high within this community. As a result, some veterans have chosen cannabis as their medicine of choice. Last month Congress passed the Fiscal-Year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill with an amendment, which will enable doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis to Veterans. Funding is still un-available for cannabis but it feels like progress nonetheless. In California, Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance (SCVA) is providing California military veterans with top-quality, lab-tested medical cannabis. Veterans Jason Sweat and Aaron Newsom founded SCVA in 2011. Sweat served with the United States Army from 1996 to 2006. Newsom served with the Marine Corps in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. After being diagnosed with PTSD, Newsom found that growing cannabis had the same therapeutic effect on him that smoking it did. Newsom used his GI bill to obtain a degree in horticulture with an emphasis on organic agriculture. Sweat also recognized cannabis’ medicinal benefits in relation to the traumas of war. Sweat and Newsom met through the Farmer Veteran Coalition and continue to be strong supporters of their mission. Their similar experiences were the motivation behind bringing awareness to cannabis’ role in helping veterans through cannabis cultivation and distribution.
GRAPHICS • BRANDON PALMA
ated the Veterans Compassion Program (VCP). VCP allows veterans to receive medical cannabis for free. Participants fill out a form and meet twice a month. The meetings serve both as a time for support groups, and a medicinal exchange. Each veteran receives around four to five grams per meeting, depending on their needs. Local canna-businesses also donate cannabis flowers, edibles and other products for medicinal use to the VCP. “Helping other veterans…Hearing another veteran say it is changing their quality of life for the better,” is what Sweat says makes it all worth it. SCVA started with three or four veterans and has grown to over 180 participants. Sweat and Newsom also play active roles in their community. They have helped launch other veteran cannabis organizations such as Cannabis Corps, Weed for Warriors and Monterey Veterans Alliance. They organize beach cleanups through Save Our Shores, are active members in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and are members of the Santa Cruz County Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee. SCVA veterans also hold holiday community barbeques and Christmas drives. They are currently working on a rollout for a veteran community volunteer group, which will incentivize veterans to participate in the community by providing them with free cannabis for every hour served. Cultivators like the SCVA are important to recognize, because they are the driving force in de-stigmatizing cannabis in local communities. Educating people, about how cannabis is truly changing people’s lives for the better, is the beginning of changing the public mindset. Newsom states, “We want to do our part to show the community that we are responsible, compassionate, dedicated and active members of society.” SCVA is getting out to the public and giving cannabis the good name it deserves. Congress’ decision to open conversation around access to medicinal cannabis for veterans is a result of beautifully organized grassroots efforts. Veterans are undeniably working to move cannabis in the right direction.
Through SCVA, Newsom and Sweat cre-
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