By Nick Givas
Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance was founded by Army combat veteran Jason Sweatt in 2011 and is composed of former military vets who provide lab-tested cannabis to fellow soldiers. Most members suffer from insomnia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and chronic pain.
The group began with several veterans growing their own medical marijuana as a form of horticultural therapy, but has expanded to include almost one hundred and fifty members.
“It’s grown and expanded pretty significantly,” Seth Smith, the group’s spokesperson, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It started with two or three veterans getting together at a monthly meeting.”
The meetings act as a form of emotional support, and provide a safe place for veterans to obtain medical cannabis, Smith said. California was the first stateto legalize medical marijuana two decades ago.
The alliance’s Veteran Compassion Program meetings were originally held at a local dispensary in California until they quickly outgrew the space. The group relocated to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars location before moving to The Santa Cruz Live Oak Grange venue in 2017.
The alliance also shares the meeting space with non-profit groups seeking to help homeless veterans.
Despite being bounced around, Smith says the group was given support by Santa Cruz county officials to continue operating because of the help they were providing veterans. In return for local support, the county asked the alliance to set up their own dispensary that is now located in Soquel Calif., and is open to both veterans and civilians.
The dispensary has been up and running since June. Some customers drive up to three hours from all over the state just to purchase the cannabis strains they provide, Smith said.
Medicinal cannabis is available in California for anyone with a valid physician’s recommendation, and “adult-use cannabis” for recreational use is available to anyone over the age of 21, according to state law.
The law will require the group to stop dispensing cannabis at the group’s monthly meetings by Jan. 1st, 2018. Dispensing cannabis will have to be done exclusively at the alliance’s new location in Soquel going forward.
The alliance has participated in a sleep deprivation research study by The Paolo Alto Veterans Affairs health system and Stanford University. The majority of the group’s members have symptoms that are made worse by lack of sleep, Smith said. He believes the alliance’s strains of cannabis can help with that.
“We didn’t create the strains, but there are strains that we have kept and molded over the years that a number of our veterans in our population swear by, for all types of issues,” he said. “For chronic headaches, for chronic pain, joint pain, inflammation, anxiety, and sleep.”
Smith hopes his group and others like it can help limit the stigma associated with medicinal cannabis, and help people become more comfortable with the idea of alternative treatment options.
“People are still thinking about clearances. They’re still thinking about federal jobs. So they may want to try this as a legitimate option or an alternative to the pharmaceuticals they’re being prescribed, but they’re afraid to do it because of the consequences,” Smith said. “That would be something we would love to help the [Veterans Affairs Department] and Congress address in some way.”