Letter to California: The looming crisis and how California’s AB 266 and AUMA will exacerbate our Veteran’s suicide epidemic
Dear my home state of California,
To understand the coming crisis, you need to understand the underlying players. We have Veterans and Veteran Organizations that are doing yeoman’s work helping their ill-served brothers and sisters who risked so much for our freedoms. On the other side, we have a cabal of bureaucrats, lobbyist, prohibitionist, law enforcement, and a for profit industry all wanting to carve out something they can claim as victory for their financial supporters.
To start let me introduce you to one of those Veteran groups. The Weed for Warriors Project, founded by Kevin Richardson in Northern California, has been on the front lines of one of the most horrific epidemics our Vets are facing. Their Suicide epidemic is real and its worse than you think.
In 2012, the Veterans Administration published a report on Veteran Suicide. The numbers were not pretty, and worse, they understated the problem. The study concluded that there were at least 22 Veterans committing suicide daily in our Country. At 22 Veterans a day, that is over 8,000 killing themselves each year. Putting those numbers into context, veterans represent 7% of the US population; yet, they represent 20% of all suicides. That is bad news by itself, but wait, it is much worse.
The numbers published by the VA in 2012 only included suicide data from 21 of the 50 states with the other 29 claiming they didn’t have the data or they could not provide it because of privacy issues. An interesting but depressing statistic is California and Texas were two of the 29 States who did not provide data yet they represent 20% of our countries population. Using extrapolation it is not inconceivable that the actual number of Veterans killing themselves is over 20,000 each year.
I don’t believe we would find much disagreement with the claim that our institutional response to the needs of Veterans is failing miserably. I also think if the government can’t help, it should do all it can to not exacerbate the problem further.
The dirty little secret that is not really a secret is Veterans have for eternity, sought relief from their ailments of service from the cannabis plant. In fact, much is made of quotes attributed in the press of the time to our Civil War Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee who championed its use amongst their soldiers.
Grant is quoted as stating Cannabis is of “great value for the Wounded” while Lee stated he “wish it was in my power to place Hasheesh Candy into the pocket of every soldier because I was convinced that it speedily relieves debility, fatigue and suffering.”
It’s not just Soldiers or Veterans who realize the healing properties of Cannabis. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health by professors from three US Universities suggest that access to legalized cannabis was associated with an 11 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 20 through 29 year-old males and a 9 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 30 through 39 year-old males. A demographic that hits the Veteran suicide epidemic center mass although we must not ignore our female Veterans who are exhibiting the same yet in many circumstances unique problems.
How is the Weed for Warriors confronting this epidemic head on? The Weed for Warrior’s Southern California chapter was conducting one of its frequent meetings this recent fall at a local park. Over one hundred veterans spent the day barbequing and enjoying the friendships that any Veteran will tell you they miss. The other purpose of this event was to distribute cannabis to qualified veterans who can’t afford to purchase their medicine. The VA nor insurance covers medical marijuana and for a triple amputee Veteran, the $3,000 they receive in monthly disability payments barely cover their cost of living let alone discretionary income to cover cannabis.
As the crowd of Veterans gathered to graciously accept their brown bag of donations, they peered inside to see flowers donated by growers, oils donated by manufacturers, vaporizers donated by entrepreneurs and lotions full of medicine that amputees swear by. Smiles permeated the veterans faces, spouses were happy knowing their families would be a little more at ease and the kids, well all they knew is mom and dad were happy. This day was a good day, a day that is in danger of becoming a thing of the past for these veterans who will have no alternative to turn to and given what we have learned, that will mean more body bags for those who already risked their lives for us.
How could this be? Well let’s turn to our political system in California. Toward the later part of 2015, California passed AB 266 also called California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation & Safety Act. Straight out of central planning, Cannabis and Regulation collided and everyone is still sifting through the ramifications of trying to please everyone, well of course except Veterans. There is one thing that is for sure, donations of cannabis has been severely restricted and the cost of production and distribution will increase across the board. Producers have to sell their goods to middlemen who then sell the producers product, after a markup of course, to the dispensary who can if they wish match what is happening today free of charge.
Under AB 266 almost all the donations the Weed for Warriors Project received that day at the park will be outlawed with risk of jail to all involved. In discussions with Weed for Warriors donors throughout the state, all of them, from growers to manufacturers, will now be unable to donate meds of any kind. Beard Bro Pharms, one of the biggest donors to WFWP states: “AB 266 practically makes it impossible to provide medicine to the most needy and deserving members of our society for the purpose of appeasing those who championed prohibition to start”
There is still hope though as California is anticipated to pass legalized adult use Cannabis in 2016. In Colorado, many Veterans denied medicine through the States medical program (PTSD is not a recognized condition) receive their medicine through the State’s recreational program. So while AB 266 looks to hurt the most needy and deserving of our society, California still had an opportunity to make it right.
That hope is fading fast as Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker has thrown his hefty support behind the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). Or as reporter Jeremy Daw stated, “ an initiative by business, for business and one that will undoubtedly leave many Veterans where veterans are often left by our government, six feet under. Why? The Sean Parker Act as its being termed in the press or AUMA specifically prohibits any donations to anybody at all.
So as we enter 2016, Veterans once again find themselves as a doormat for a system that lost use for them years ago. In everyone’s rush to claim victory or protect their interest, Veteran’s interests are clearly being ignored and that exclusion has been overplayed throughout our country’s history as to blunt the visceral reaction we should be having.
With up to and above 20,000 Veterans committing suicide each year in our Country, with California being home to the largest Veteran population, it is appalling to see the political class, partner with the for profit industry and the prohibitionist to once again marginalize our Veterans. We ask that the people of California stand with us and demand legislative relief from the overregulation of our medicine that will have the practical effect of denying many Veterans access to Cannabis. We owe it to our Veterans who seek relief from the horrors of service. Horrors obviously not understood by those crafting legislation in Sacramento.
Sean T. Kiernan, Veteran
President, Weed for Warriors Project