A local support group spent its Saturday handing out a medication that many of Colorado's veterans are scared to apply for: cannabis.
In an effort to supply Denver's veterans with alternative medication for conditions like chronic pain, post-traumatic stress and insomnia, Grow for Vets— a support group dedicated to supplying veterans with medical marijuana— handed out pot-care packages to over seventy veterans at the Clover Leaf University campus. While the United States Senate prepares to negotiate a bill with the House of Representatives that would allow doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to patients in states where it's legal, veterans in Colorado must pay for an independent recommendation or stay on the recreational side out of fear of losing their VA benefits for using a federally illegal substance.
"People ask all the time why I do what I do," said Roger Martin, founder of Grow for Vets. "My brothers and sisters in the room are the reason why."
Martin, a U.S. Army veteran who we first profiled in May 2014 (and featured again the following July, when the organization was featured on a national CBS report), said he started Grow for Vets after pot-infused edibles helped him stop taking over 180 milligrams of prescribed Oxycotin a day. He and his wife, Lori, now hold multiple cannabis handouts a year in Denver and Colorado Springs for Grow for Vets members in hopes of helping local veterans, who are able to sign up for membership at the giveaways.
"It's good to see a lot of new faces today," he said as the giveaway began Saturday morning.
Although Grow for Vets gained some members while it gave out packages that contained what Martin said were a few grams of flower, pot-infused candies, seeds and smoking accessories, the gathering was much more than a grab-and-dash for free weed. Most of the veterans who showed up stayed around after the giveaway to listen to discussions about medical marijuana and support each other as they discussed their daily tribulations.
"I love when I'm around other veterans. They understand," said Grow for Vets member Russell Topel. "We're open and we listen to each other."
Topel, a Navy veteran who said cannabis helped cut his daily pain medication from 42 pills to two, believes medical marijuana and the connections he has made through Grow for Vets have improved his quality of life. After spending most of his days in a reclining chair to help deal with his pain while on Vicodin and fentanyl, he said he can now go out to eat with friends and ride his Harley Davidson.
"I couldn't leave my closet some days because of the pain and what it did to me," he said. "The pot takes it from about a seven to a four when I'm in the recliner."
While most of the older veterans like Topel were there for chronic pain, some of the members who came were afflicted with post-traumatic stress, which was rejected as a qualifying medical marijuana condition in July by the Colorado Board of Health.
"For a lot of the people here, we don't know if this is the first time that they've left the house all week," Martin said. "We're not sure some of them will be with us when we meet next."
Sadly, Martin wasn't talking about a member's future meeting attendance — he was talking about their lives. The VA estimates that 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and that up to 20 percent of veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars returned home with post-traumatic stress. A 2012 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association listed opiod overdose as a leading cause of death in America and reported that veterans prescribed opiods for pain and post-traumatic stress may be at higher risk for lethal overdose.
Grow for Vets hopes to start chapters in Pueblo and Colorado Springs soon; it currently has chapters in Arizona, California, Michigan, Nevada and Oregon. Martin said the flower the veterans received was donated by private growers, and Denver-based edibles company Incredibles provided the pot-infused candies for free.
There will be a similar cannabis giveaway on Friday, December 18, for Grow for Vets members at the Dab Lounge in Colorado Springs, 1532 North Circle Drive. New members may sign up at the giveaway.
Have a tip? Send it to [email protected]