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Veterans And Seniors Are Ending The Drug War


ptsd second amendment military veteran cannabis marijuanaTwo different people over the age of 60 – one man, one woman – approached me in the past week wanting cannabis cultivation advice. It being fall, they were specifically soliciting harvest advice. Now, I happen not to be a cannabis farmer (I sure will cultivate hemp (once it’s legal), but I am a cannabis journalist, so I understand why they asked. I might have visited more cannabis and hemp farms in the past three years than any other journalist.

What stayed with me was not their questions, which surrounded the usual farmer concerns of flower curing and the threat of rain just prior to harvest, but their ages. Older Americans are one of the two key demographics that explain why, at long last, cannabis prohibition, America’s Longest War and her second Civil War, is finally nearly over.

Let’s start with that first group, seniors. Pollsters are finally accepting (though scratching their heads over the fact) that older Americans are the fastest growing segment of the population to support the Drug Peace era. The reason is pretty simple: in a pill-popping society, any plant that will, with negligible side-effects, reduce the number of capsules in the weekly pill box is welcome. As I put it in my recent book, Too High to Fail:

In (to put it mildly) right-leaning Orange County, California, I saw senior ladies—the largest demographic component of a cannabis collective therein called Wilbur OC—being schooled in modern delivery methods (such as the vaporizer and the lozenge) so as to soothe their aching glaucoma pressure and deliver the only treatment that makes their arthritis bearable.

Craig Raimondi, Wilbur OC’s tie-wearing manager, told me, “We see a lot of folks returning in desperation to the cannabis of their college days. They have positive memories of the plant, and feel comfortable giving it a shot when prescription medicines don’t provide relief for their symptoms. In the communities of people living with various ailments, word gets around that it’s effective.”

Wilbur OC and its sister collective in San Diego have 5,050 patient members, several dozen of whom annually take a field trip to the sustainably minded Mendocino County farm that is the source of 100 percent of the collectives’ medicine. This is known in the industry as a “closed loop” model, which has marketing value during federal cannabis prohibition because it shows that an outfit can be relied on not to divert cannabis to, say, a college dorm in Alabama (where, by the way, prices for California bud in 2011 were about three times higher—six thousand dollars per pound—than they were inside the Golden State).

The two collectives were so popular that their executive director and Mendocino farm manager, forty-seven-year-old Jim Hill, closed membership in 2010. The collective simply couldn’t produce any more medicine than Hill and his full-time botanist already did and Hill didn’t want to risk getting it from outside sources. Only members could receive cannabis.

“Orange County needs its medicine too,” Raimondi told me when I pointed out that this was where Richard Nixon retired. “That’s our motto.” And Wilbur offers it less expensively than any other collective or dispensary I’d seen in California too—an important consideration for seniors on a fixed income whose insurance, if they have it, can’t (yet) cover a federal “drug.”

So that explains seniors. Guess what? The reasons the second “surprising” group to support the end of the war on cannabis, military veterans returning from combat in harm’s way, also feel so strongly, are nearly identical to those expressed by seniors across the nation: they are eager to be free of addictive or otherwise harmful pharmaceuticals after their service has ended…Again, from Too High to Fail:

I met a half-dozen veterans receiving Hill’s Mendocino medicine, and all spoke of positive results for ailments ranging from arthritis to cancer to glaucoma to pain from war injuries to PTSD and insomnia. In fact, what I saw in Orange County was an eye-opener for me: There are people there who like both Bill O’Reilly and cannabis.

At the San Diego collective Hill founded, the patient who most intrigued me was thirty-year-old Iraq War vet and retired army sergeant Jamie Brown, who is also the collective manager. There’s no less graphic way to describe his shrapnel injury than to say what he says: “You could fit two fingers into the dent in my back.” That was because of the rocket that exploded five feet from his tent in 2003.

Two months of in-patient, sometimes touch-and-go intensive care followed for an injury that his doctor told him he “wouldn’t have survived if this was Vietnam.” The entry wound was an inch and a half from Brown’s spine, took out his left kidney, his spleen, and the distal portion of his pancreas. During the acute phase of his recovery, he had multiple chest tubes.

And yet six months later his real problem was prescription painkillers. “I got great care that saved my life, no question, but when you tell the VA you have pain, they toss you a pill. None of the painkillers is positive for your body, and I was on every one of them at some point. If I hadn’t tried cannabis as a kid, I’d probably never have thought of it as a medicine. But I moved to California [from Indiana]in large part because of the medical cannabis law, and today I take no pharmaceuticals at all. Cannabis isn’t just helpful to me for pain and the remnants of any PTSD. It’s a motivator to eat well and exercise, which is crucial to staying healthy with my injury. I’m a lucky man to have access to this plant. I thank God for it, actually. I think about the other injured vets I knew in Indiana every day and I wish they had access to the medicine that I do.”

When I asked him how he handled his cannabis medication within the federal constraints faced by his VA doctor, Brown said, “You’re the first person I’ve ever told outside of my family, this collective, and close friends that I medicate with cannabis.”

Another San Diego patient/member at Hill’s collective, fifty-four-year-old former Navy SEAL Mike Knox, was prescribed methadone for an aorta tear, a medication that made him lethargic and obese before he kicked it with cannabis. “I lost a hundred thirty-five pounds when I got off that stuff,” he said. “I just bought me a new motorcycle. I’m back. In my age group especially, we Medicaiders at fifty-plus years old, we need this medicine — and education about it.”

The political shift surrounding cannabis in seniors and veterans – two generally conservative demographics — is just a microcosm of our wider medical system crossroads: a patient today can either accept the current pharmaceutical situation with its many ups and significant downs or, when you have the luxury of time, research alternatives. As I put it in the book, health care costs are becoming so ubiquitously out of reach for average Americans that entire cottage industries of below-the-insurance-radar treatments, some ancient and even — gasp — effective, are springing up.

And as I discussed in a previous column, cannabis is so safe that the objection that patients might suffer from a lack of the kind of laboratory uniformity they enjoy with a pill is a specious one – a red herring put forth by those who profit from the status quo.

In the end, being approached in rapid succession by two AARP member cannabis farmers has solidified a major political lesson for me. In fact, looking back, the biggest lesson I’ve learned from watching the drug policy discussion for three years is that when Tea Partiers agree with Occupiers, the voice of the people can’t be ignored, no matter how powerful the special interests.

In other words, our political system is still very much a democracy when this many people care. No matter what efforts are underway to patent components of cannabis and monetize and pharma-ize the plant, as long as it will be legal to grow in home gardens and acquire at the farmer’s market, I can in good conscience continue to say,  “God Bless America.”

Source: National Cannabis Coalitionmake a donation


About Author

Doug Fine, bestselling author of Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution, is one of the world's few investigative cannabis journalists. As such, he meets folks from Hawaii to Laos who, until federal and worldwide prohibition finally ends and the professional conventions begin, are unlikely to meet one another. He’s a pollinator of Drug Peace ideas, in other words, a bumblebee. Each week in this column you’ll hear another cannabis story from around the planet. Doug’s work from five continents is at: www.dougfine.com. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook. http://www.dougfine.com/


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It is important for everyone to hear, not only MMJ patients. I salute your struggle and ultimate success. Cheers!

  2. I’m guessing that you wanted someone to ask you about getting rid of employer rights in courts. Did you want to expand on that?

  3. Mr. Johnson, I am just one person that posts on this website. I welcome well-meaning opinions and those interested in learning. We are talking about all things cannabis here, not about “placenta and fetus research.” And if you want to praise your god, please feel free to do so at church or on religious websites. I think you will find a lot of like-minded people in these venues. However, I doubt they will want to talk about weed. Major Bummer.


  4. I’m sorry Mr. Johnson, but I do not believe in miracles. But I do believe in cannabis. And to people who are conservative on this issue, Mr. Fine can “come across” as overly pro-marijuana. That’s what I meant by “if you know what I mean.” Peace.

  5. Old Vet,
    I think that you should be entitled to anything and everything that relieves your suffering without directly endangering another person. Everyone should have that right, but if we can only give it to a select few then you should be first in line. Obviously this forum is about cannabis, but even if you needed or wanted heroin I would have no problem with that. Whatever the fuck you want you deserve. These stupid politicians who tell you that you can’t have cannabis would have their heads impaled on a stake if it were not for your incredible bravery and service, and I can’t stand it that they patronize your requests. I doubt senator/representative/mayor/council member/etc Fuckowitz who dismisses your needs would even have the balls to stand in firing range of the enemy for 10 seconds, let alone serve our country as you did.

  6. God bless, why can’t people understand we aren’t all dreadlocked and listening to bob Marley?

    Some of us are working professionals hat treat it just like having a beer at the end of a long day. We still pay the mortgage, go to Church (when we feel like it) and have respectable jobs?

    I can spend more money for dr visits and rx meds for a broken spine vs hitting the bong with a glass of Pinot Grigio?

  7. I do not know the Bible well…my GOD wouldn’t deny this wonderful gift, He gave us to help our suffering…glory be to GOD!

  8. Yes, and then these stupid insurance laws…insure drivers, not vehicles…Glory be to GOD!

  9. Some people bought the lies spouted in the 70’s…I wonder how much more we would know if the medical community had focused as much attention on medical marijuana as was wasted on placenta and fetus research!? Glory be to GOD!

  10. Overly pro-marijuana? GOD’s gifts cannot be over estimated…this is truly a miracle medicine. Glory be to GOD!

  11. firetheliberals on

    Just turned 55 and the magic herb helps me with the three A’s, arthritis , attitude and a $$ holes. Now if we can just get rid of employer rights in court

  12. I was going to try to post a picture here from the Balloon Fiesta, but this damn thing won’t let me. Shit. And it was a really good picture too.

  13. Great story! But you changed your mindset after you experienced cannabis, not before. I don’t think it’s feasible to force every person to smoke a joint so that they can figure out for themselves that there is nothing to fear. (But it would sure be fun to try.)

  14. “My local punk ass reps reply to every correspondence with the same tired form letter thanking me for my service and telling me my ideas are not in line with the fed…”

    I’m familiar with these types of letters. Written by attorneys, donors, corporate think-tanks, party big-wigs, publicists, aides, and pollsters; reviewed by attorneys, donors, and the Local Punk Ass Reps; and delivered to us electronically so the NSA can spy on us. The government for and by the 1% thanks you for your cooperation.

    And I, also, thank you for your service. Sometimes it seems like I say that a lot, and it can begin to sound old, but I hope it hasn’t lost its meaning.

  15. I recall seeing Mr. Fine on C-span talking about his book. At first he comes off as a little too pro-marijuana, if you know what I mean. But as you listen, you realize he knows what he is talking about. He was (and, I presume, is) a very enthusiastic speaker and appeared to be one of those authentic and real people I keep hearing about (but so rarely come across)… :)

    I’m sure he’s heard this before (and I feel weird talking about him like he’s not here), but real information from real people is so appreciated by all the little people. I get the feeling that, even if Mr. Fine were arguing for the other side, we would always listen.

    Take a bow, young man.

  16. Ive used cannabis for combat PTSD since 1999….after i left service in 1997……i had a lot of guilt regret and remorse for somethings i did and saw……i drank a lot hated civilians (even though i was one)…….spent my days drinking and fishing…….then after one particular bad night of drinking i let my friends have it…..a lot of yelling swearing it just was not good……a friend came by to talk to me……….at this point in my life i was against weed……though a lot of my friends used i did not……..he talked to me about his brother alcohol and PTSD…….using marijuana helped his brother with his PTSD………well i was still against it………..he said ill leave 2 joints on the table……the next time you want to drink……just try a smoke to see if it helps……….they sat there for 2 weeks until…….i was watching TV and started thinking ( not good) well the anger regret and remorse hit me like s truck……..got up to go get the bottle of southern comfort i always went to………it was gonna be another long night……….then i thought about the joints on the coffee table……..sat back down put the joint on my lips thought cant be worse than the SoCo…….15 mins later i was laughing my ass off to a south park episode ordered a pizza (dam was that an interesting phone call)………its helped a lot…..gave me my life back…………i understand the prohibitionist mind set……i was once myself, friends and trusted people will change their minds……ive managed to change the minds of quite a few people myself………..the funnest and most often response i hear is……”people like you dont do that” i tell them “theres more of us than you’d ever believe

  17. I am not nearly as disabled as OldVetPawPaw below (Thank you for everything you have sacrificed for our country, I salute you!) but I also have something I would like to add.

    I am 32 years old, I served 5 years, never saw combat (unless you consider the martial arts training implemented in 2002 combat…) and came out with disabilities that are not visible. Knee injuries that have yet to be pinpointed as to what is wrong (the VA changes the diagnosis a few times, and civilian doctors had a few different theories as well), 4 herniated discs, spondylolysis, and a dislocated shoulder that grinds badly when my arm is raised above horizontal with any weight more than my arm itself). Invisible disabilities have proven a very large pain to explain to people, and quite a few have not taken me seriously.

    With the combination of these issues, I wound up ballooning to over 300 pounds. I am 6’4″, and graduated boot camp weighing in at about 165. Before that, I was about 180-190, average. With the extra weight I was carrying, my conditions only worsened. I could not get up and down stairs without extreme difficulty, I had to have a cane with me everywhere I went to ensure I wouldn’t fall on my face when my knees or back would spike with pain. My appetite dwindled to nothing, and to top that off, the pain meds I was given made me feel lethargic, sick and unable to do much of anything, all just for a slight relief. Vicodin was the first, and all that did was make me feel sick. Motrin, Tylenol 3, and a few others came and went, none of which did me good enough to improve my QoL.

    After my family watched me decline for a long period of time, from 2003 to about 2008, a family member came to me and suggested that I try cannabis as medicine. I was very upset at that point, because I had bought in to all the crap that big media and the government feeds us about this wonderful plant. However I did research for a few weeks, and learned that I was totally in the dark about something amazing.

    I finally gave it a go, and noticed almost immediate relief of pain. Immediate increase in appetite. Immediate ability to do more than I had done in the past few years. Coupled with SLIGHT diet change, I lost over 100 pounds over the course of 1 year. ONE YEAR. I gave up the pain meds that were being thrown at me.

    Now, I walk about 10 miles a day (hoping to be able to run again soon!), I don’t have pain unless I really overdo something. I feel amazing, happy, uplifted and much more complete. My weight is back down to below 200, holding steady in the 190 range.

    Aside from the physical disabilities, I have also been diagnosed bi-polar. Cannabis is definitely not a cure for this, and I am taking other medications for this, but I will tell you it helps immensely. When I am having a swing I can smoke and keep the effects to a minimum. The other medications help to prevent such dramatic swings, and the Cannabis tends to knock that out completely if I do.
    There is absolutely no reason for this absolutely life changing medicine to be illegal, other than the fact that big pharma will lose out on so many different prescriptions and thus money. But is that really a valid reason? Nope.

    To our government:
    Legalize it and regulate it just like alcohol, and make your country happy. It may take removal of your craniums from your rectal area, and require a thorough and intensive scrub down, but once you do that, maybe you will have a clear view of what this beautiful and beneficial plant is!

  18. Sounds like you need a vacation. Ever think about doing some touring? I can think of at 2 places I’d like to visit. Haha

    Good luck man

  19. I feel for ya brother, the whole situation is pretty silly. The green weenie strikes again! There is no way that smoking weed would be good for us, but seems the combat missions in Vietnam, Iraq & Afghanistan was okay. Jail time would be amusing, as that would be a cakewalk compared to combat. Be the only dude with a smile on his face at taxpayer breakfast. Drink water, smoke and drive on old warrior!

  20. Ditto, OldVetPaPaw. You are an awesome dude and I thank you for your service to us all. I so wish I could just say come live with us here in NM. No one should have to live with your maladies, especially as a Vet. Your country owes you better things than holding you back from a proven, time tested medicine that actually works. I wish you luck, and don’t give up hope.

  21. Above all I am an American, above party, above family and friends. And eradicating illogical pot laws is an American thing to do.
    Peace, love and logic….my friends…

  22. God Bless you Sir, And Thank you for your service to our country. The fact that you still have a sense of humor
    is inspiring. Wishing you all the best today and tomorrow.

  23. I am a badly disabled vet, 2 bronze stars and 1 purple heart (the last of which I should have gotten posthumus) and a close but not quite senior and I want it legalized so bad that I would gladly give up what little quality of life I have left to make it so for the rest of my country. I am in a part of the US that is so badly cranial rectally inverted that legalization might happen if hell froze over. We still have dry counties, blue laws and bible thumpers canvassing the neighborhoods daily hell bent on saving your soul even if its over your dead body.
    I would love to have an indoor garden that I can easily attend without aid or heavy equipment. I would love to sit on my back porch and enjoy a bowl and a sunset. I would love to smoke a joint in peace and with the knowledge that I will not be jumped by 10 blacked out thugs one night and thrown to the floor, for their safetly of course, during a narco raid. I fear spending the last few years behind bars because I do live within eye sight of a school and in a state of “stupidity and inbred genetic anomolies”. I cant afford to move and frankily dont have the physical resources to even if I had the money. SO I am stuck. My local punk ass reps reply to every correspondence with the same tired form letter thanking me for my service and telling me my ideas are not in line with the fed and until further notice will never change.
    The VA would disown me if I tested positive yet I am given shovels full of pills monthly to make my quality (LOL) of life more bearable. Cannabis allows me to stop taking most of the pain killer and inflamatory meds and allows me to hold down food that I would otherwise avoid. I actually smile and feel like doing something other than be angry. But hey, look here Jack, Washington for sure knows whats best for you and me. They always do the right thing. Anyone seen my left eye, hand and forearm, legs, lower intestine, nut sack and crank laying around? Maybe a kidney? Yeah I dont think so.

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