When California’s Prop. 64, the measure that legalized recreational marijuana, went into effect in 2018, it disrupted a long legacy of compassion in the state’s cannabis community. For years beginning in the 1980s, heroes such as Brownie Mary Rathburn, Dennis Peron, Ed Rosenthal and countless others provided cannabis to patients battling AIDS, cancer, and other serious diseases. Their freely given work and compassion, in fact, were the impetus for the movement to legalize medical marijuana in California and beyond.
But legalization changed much of that. Due to an oversight made when Prop. 64 was being drafted, no allowance was made for cannabis producers and dispensaries to legally gift medical marijuana products to people in need. Overnight, caring medical marijuana providers who had been helping those unable to afford their medicine had no legal way to facilitate their compassion.
Ryan Miller, the founder of Operation EVAC, explained to High Times that the legal flaw has had a tremendous impact on military veterans, who are disproportionately challenged by insomnia, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions.
“The affordability of cannabis is a primary concern for veterans, often on fixed incomes and absent any VA coverage,” Miller said in a phone interview. “Opiates are free at the VA, antidepressants are free at the VA, jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge is free. And so veterans desperately need free access to natural plant medicine.”
But legalization actually reduced access to medical marijuana for patients in need. In addition to preventing legal operators from making donations, the price of cannabis from the regulated market was often out of reach to many veterans, with sometimes devastating effects.
“There’s been a substantial increase in taxes and the regulatory fees that have been passed on to the consumer,” noted Miller. “So a lot of veterans have been priced out of the compliant marketplace. And alcohol is a much cheaper substitute.”
Legislative Fix Now On The Books
To rectify the situation, earlier this year the Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act (SB-34) went into effect, allowing licensed businesses to make donations of compassionate cannabis to registered medical marijuana patients. To help veterans navigate the process, Operation EVAC (for Educating Veterans About Cannabis), partners with Northern California dispensaries to host meetings. But it’s not just about handing out free weed. Instead, it’s a way for vets to connect with each other and their feelings in a safe environment to help facilitate healing.
“The practice is a 90-minute session where we’ll sit in a circle for the first hour and we’ll share stories and practice forming positive narratives about our experiences to avoid the ‘veteran as victim’ mentality,” Miller explained. “It’s also an exercise in public speaking which is both a social and employable skill.”
The discussion period is followed by a 20-minute guided meditation with iRest yoga nidra practitioner Jaene Leonard. Afterward, cannabis information and medicine are shared with the participants.
“In the first hour, we’ll laugh a lot and sometimes cry, and in the second half of the class during the meditation, we’ll sometimes snore,” said Miller. “So, we get the full range of emotions in a 90-minute practice.”
Those emotions can be tough for veterans to deal with. Miller wants Americans to understand that sometimes they need support and to “accept the reality that America is the most violent, militaristic country on the face of the Earth. And it’s less than 4% of the population who wears the uniform and bears the burden of the military-industrial complex. And with that said it’s the responsibility of the entire village to welcome home their warriors.” SB 34 is a step in the right direction, but for it to work, it needs the support of California’s licensed cannabis industry.
“The scale of compassion has the potential to expand a great deal beyond what it ever was,” said Miller.” “I say potential because it’s important that manufacturers and distributors and testing labs and dispensaries, that the retail outlet specifically, buys into compassion. And really integrates this into their operations, integrates this into not only their public relations approaches, but really just as their values as a company.”
Stepping Up To Help Our Veterans
And it can be a win-win situation for vets and the companies that support them. Operation EVAC, for example, accepts donations of expired or nearly expired cannabis products, which are retested by industry partner SC Labs before distribution. Vets get the medicine they need, and the donor avoids the high cost of destroying cannabis in a compliant manner.
One company that has gotten behind SB 34 already is Shryne Group, the parent of industry powerhouse STIIIZY. Co-founder James Kim told High Times that his support for veterans is personal.
“I’m a combat veteran myself, so my involvement is very authentic to the cause,” Kim said in a virtual interview. “I spent a year in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 and have been through the trauma myself and rehabilitated myself using cannabis. And now, in the position that I am today, I definitely wanted to give back to the veteran community and help support any non-profits that are out there.”
STIIIZY has partnered with Weed for Warriors, another group that assists veterans with access to medical cannabis. But the company’s support for vets goes beyond donating cannabis or writing a check. They’ve also offered their dispensaries as a distribution point for donations to veterans under SB 34, and spearheaded a campaign to feed needy vets in California’s Inland Empire, among other initiatives. And to raise awareness and funds, the company has partnered with Blacklist XYZ and Weed for Warriors to offer a limited edition vape battery for Veterans Day, with 100% of the proceeds going to the veterans assistance organization.
Miller of Operation EVAC applauds the generosity of the businesses that are stepping up to help the women and men who have served their country in the military. But he also wants Americans to realize that the sacrifices our vets make could be avoided if we reexamine our values as a nation. And he challenged the cannabis community to lead the way.
“The best thing that we could possibly do for veterans is to stop creating them. We have to stop this endless war and these Band-Aids that were putting on veterans, whether it’s cannabis or psychedelics,” he asserted. “We’ve got to really look at the problem, which is the military-industrial complex and endless war. What happened to the anti-war movement? Cannabis people have a history and a heritage of activism. And there’s other causes to support beyond the weed.”