A couple years ago, Scott Breitenstein said he was a “zombie” thanks to the cocktail of antidepressants he’d been prescribed to combat PTSD from his time in the Marines. Once, that mix landed him in a TSA holding cell while his family flew off for vacation.
Jeff Wortham had been in a “viscious cycle” of taking one pill to ward off the effects of the other ever since he left the Marines in 1987. Eventually, he turned to cocaine and other street drugs to self-medicate.
Army veteran Mike Withers was arrested more than once and battled anger issues that impacted his marriage.
Bobby West, who served in both the Navy and Army National Guard, ended up homeless for a time after battling drug addiction that started with pills prescribed from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
All four of these men say they were able to turn their lives around by turning to cannabis.
“My life has changed,” said West, who’s now affectionately known as Uncle Stoner. “It can heal us veterans, and we definitely need it.”
The men spoke during a panel Thursday at the High Times Business Summit inside the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Roger Martin, who founded the organization Grow for Vets, brought the panel together to help people understand the unique issues facing America’s veterans and how he believes cannabis can help.
“Fifty of us are dying from suicide every day,” Martin said. “If anybody has earned the right to decide what they want to medicate with, it’s the American heroes I’m lucky enough to stand up here with today.”
His organization advocates for veterans to have access to medical marijuana, working with the VA, legislators and more. They also regularly give away free cannabis to former service members.
Medical marijuana isn’t a “cure all,” Martin acknowledged. But he said it made a difference for him and for thousands of veterans his organization has worked with over the years.
That includes Withers. He still walks with a cane from his injury while deployed, but said he’s been able to wean himself off of almost all prescription medications since he started using cannabis.
“It was a breakthrough for me,” he said. “It let me see the world instead of just watching it go by.”
There’s been progress when it comes to giving veterans access to medical marijuana. They can no longer be denied VA healthcare, for example, if they are medical cannabis users. And more states than ever have medical marijuana laws on the books.
However, VA health providers still can’t recommend cannabis for any conditions. That almost changed last summer with an amendment to the VA’s budget bill by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. But Martin explained that condition was stripped from the bill just before it was passed.
With President-Elect Donald Trump’s repeated campaign promises that veterans would get better care, Martin said he isn’t worried about how things will change under the administration stepping in Friday. Still, he said things won’t really evolve until marijuana is made legal at the federal level.
In the meantime, thanks to donations of cash and product, his group plans to keep giving access to free medical cannabis to as many veterans as they can.
Grow for Vets will soon be bringing what he says will be “the largest cannabis giveaway ever” to veterans in the Los Angeles area. They’ll only need to bring a “DD 214,” or separation papers from the service, plus a government-issued ID, with more details on that event coming soon.
More coverage from the High Times Business Summit: 9 tips for breaking into the legal cannabis cultivation industry