VAC Newsletter #1
The Veterans Action Council Turns One!
What is VAC?
We are an Action Group :)
Cannabis Veteran Super Friends :)
A Council of Veterans from Sea to Shining Sea :)
Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021 marks one year of advocacy for the VAC. What an amazing year filled with action, camaraderie, learning opportunities, growth, pain, and beauty! We’ve run the field, and we have the war trophies and scars to prove it. When we first began it was as a “buddy check” during quarantine, however that quickly transformed into a simple call to action: “Now that we’re here, what are we going to do?” Here’s how we saw things after that first week of introductions.
“Action items: Circulate upcoming interview series with veterans, from MassCan. Track down DEA memo to VA. Start circulating our summary, and bullet points for VA reform, and get feedback from the larger community. Meeting next Wednesday, same Bat time, same Bat channel.”
Wednesday August 12th, 2020 - Started @ 2000 EST. VAC Members Present: Etienne Fontan, Robert Kowalski, Michael Pietrangelo, Pearson Crosby, Ricardo Pereyda, Michael Krawitz, and Tony Landry.
Those videos turned into Roundtables, that summary turned into our “Green Paper”, the bullet points are now suggested amendments for legislation being bounced around the halls of power real time, and the larger community now includes branded VSOs like AMVETS, who just held their inaugural Alternative Healthcare Summit. We have been active at the local, state, federal, and international level.
This is the first newsletter where we will update you on our progress, and inform you of ways to get involved and take action. Seeing how we are playing this all out sans blueprint, there’s really no established format for these yet. Generally we will be looking to update you from the trenches of the war on drugs, and the template will remain flexible.
One of the great things about being an all volunteer group, is that we have nothing keeping us from going in whichever direction is required at the drop of a dime.
The "Green Paper" is a culmination of work spanning back to the 1970's, retrofitted for today's advocacy realm, and is actively being circulated throughout halls of power across the globe. Our next push with it will be through the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), who recently solicited the public for comment regarding their drug policies. We obliged, and have submitted an updated version of the Green Paper to the ONDCP. As per their request. What follows is the Executive Summary of that submission.
The Veterans Action Council (VAC) is an all volunteer group of Veterans, and venerated professionals in our respective fields. We came together to promote and coordinate efforts on issues concerning Veteran access to alternative treatments and therapies, thereby promoting the physical health and mental well-being of Veterans and their families. We are submitting this “Green Paper” to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in response to their request for input from the public regarding their policies, and how they negatively impact segments of our society.
Our Green Paper outlines significant concerns within the medical cannabis community, and what we feel are some potential remedies. First and foremost, we are concerned that Veterans are not included in the equity breakdown of Executive Order 13985. We respectfully request that you include our council in your task-force assembling the next national drug control strategy. As Veterans of the United States (U.S.) Armed Forces, we call on the ONDCP and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to fully recognize cannabis as a viable treatment option for U.S. Veterans. Leaders are increasingly aware of the devastation to former military members and their families caused by inappropriate prescription of opiates, SSRIs, benzodiazepines and other pharmaceuticals. Multiple attempts have been made to resolve the inability of Veterans to incorporate cannabis into their official treatment plans. Every attempt made to address our concerns has been sabotaged at the federal level. The VHA must take action on this issue. Federal leadership in the executive and legislative branches of our government must understand the enormity of this situation.
The fact is, Veterans are self-medicating with cannabis and other substances. Veterans report turning to cannabis after pharmaceutical options provided by the VHA -- some of which include warnings of suicidal ideation -- exacerbate their symptoms. We have an opportunity to expand the conversation into areas such as MST, TBI, CTE, and other issues Veterans face beyond post traumatic stress (PTS). Veterans farming cannabis should be supported by the Department of Agriculture, with programs sponsored by the VHA. Veterans are being forced, sometimes into criminal behavior, to heal themselves using alternative substances not currently recognized by the VHA. The experienced cultivators and medical healthcare and research providers in our network are capable of providing reliable information regarding the benefits of using “real world” cannabis, as opposed to the currently mandated NIDA product. These professionals can break down the many data points of cannabis being used by Veterans across the country.
Finally, given the VHA is a federal program, operating in all fifty states, Veterans receiving care from the VHA are federal patients who require equal medical treatment, regardless of state laws. The current situation is untenable and an expansion of existing federal policy is in order. Service members are losing their benefits before entering into Veteran status, and they are experiencing undiagnosed issues stemming from their service. This leaves Veterans with debilitating health concerns that often result in them fending for themselves. We are urging our representatives to protect the health and safety of Veterans by de-scheduling cannabis and re-opening the federal Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program (IND) through the VHA. This will ensure cannabis and other adjunct treatments are available options for Veterans’ healthcare in all 50 States and Territories of the U.S.
Key internal questions VAC faced immediately, and still take into consideration on a regular basis:
Are our requests unreasonable?
Is it our job to figure out specifics for elected officials and others when they get paid and elected to do that same work?
Should we go ahead and do that work ahead of time in anticipation of being hit down the road?
What are we asking for?
Cannabis legislation we are following: The “Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act” and "Safe Harbor Act" in the Senate; the "Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act", and the “Fully Informed Veteran Act” in the House.
Suggested Amendments to legislation being drafted real time:
Recognize veterans as “federal patients” under the Veterans Health Administration.
Provide for a voucher system of 10 grams of cannabis averaged at a cost of XXX, per day, for veterans enrolled in, and receiving benefits from the VHA. These vouchers will be used by Veterans to obtain cannabis flower, tinctures, edibles, vape, or any other available modality from state regulated cannabis programs. The VHA will cover any and all costs associated with certifying Veterans for said state run cannabis programs.
Provide for an identifier on our VHA identification cards identifying Veterans as federal cannabis patients. These cards will provide immunity from prosecution in any U.S. state or territory without functional cannabis programs, or while traveling across the country with their medicine.
Provide for VHA applications to grow cannabis, partnering with the Department of Agriculture and universities, as well as any appropriate regulating agencies.
Provide for authorization of cannabis Veteran Service Organizations, much like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, or Disabled American Veterans.
The Veterans Action Council is on a mission seeking lasting systemic reform within the VHA. Change that is meaningful. In order to accomplish the task we have set out for ourselves, it is important for us to build up a coalition of reputable friends within our community.
We are an all volunteer group of Veterans, and venerated professionals in our respective fields. We came together to promote and coordinate efforts on issues concerning veteran access to alternative treatments and therapies, thereby promoting the physical health and mental well-being of veterans and their families.
Veterans need a safe place to congregate, fraternize, and consume cannabis (a consumption lounge). The concept and benefits of Veteran service organizations has long been known. We seek to create a new VSO model that does not involve alcohol, yet still provides the comprehensive benefits of a VSO to Veterans and their community.
The VAC is looking to provide a proof of concept location in order to create a welcoming environment for all Veterans, their families, and friends through various events, programs, PSAs, etc. We also seek to provide safe and affordable access to natural medicine and alternative therapies for Veterans interested in pursuing a more holistic lifestyle.
Provide a safe environment for Veterans, their families, and friends;
Increase the quality of life for Veterans, and their families;
Establish new networking opportunities within the Veteran community;
Identify and perpetuate positive trends in the Veteran community;
Frequently participate in community events in order to bring awareness of Veterans’ needs to our peers and to the public;
Provide a positive picture of Veterans and post traumatic growth while attending such events;
Pioneer programs which set the standard for the Veteran community;
Design metrics to monitor the utilization of our programs and to evaluate community participation and benefits;
Reduce the suicide rate within the Veteran community;
Reduce the dependence on pharmaceuticals within the Veteran community;
Meet with our legislators to present this new model; educating them on the many obstacles Veterans face upon their separation from the military, offering solutions for each respective issue where we feel we can assist;
Engage in Local, State, Federal, and International Research & Advocacy;
Increase the Morale & Welfare of our Community;
Foster Safe Environments & Education Opportunities.
STRATEGY MONDAYS *ZOOM @ 1700 EST WEEKLY
STRATEGY WEDNESDAYS *ZOOM @ 1430 EST WEEKLY
V.A.C. THURSDAYS *ZOOM @ 2000 EST EVERY OTHER WEEK
VAC ROUNDTABLES *ZOOM @1910 EVERY OTHER WEEK
VAC INTERNATIONAL SUNDAYS *ZOOM @1400 EST EVERY OTHER WEEK
The United Nations: An inflection point in the history of cannabis. A serious change in international drug policy. For Alternative Approaches to Addiction, Think and do tank (FAAAT) and the Veterans Action Council (VAC ) team up in Vienna!
VAC Council Member Michael Krawitz has been working at the international level since 1998. In that time he has been able to foster many meaningful relationships with key figures at the United Nations, and he has brought us along for the experience. It was as a result of these efforts that we were able to successfully conduct our first intervention at the world stage in 2021. The Veterans Action Council submitted a letter for the record urging a more reasonable approach to the cannabis issue, and the war on drugs in general. We are already planning for next year in Vienna!
Since 2019 VAC Council Member Bryan Buckley and the Helmand Valley Growers Company (HVGC), have been pursuing IRB approval for their privately funded observational research investigation. The Battle Brothers Foundation - the not for profit arm of the “for purpose” HVGC - recently received IRB approval, and are pushing forward. They are working with an Israeli research firm, NiaMedic and the University of California at Irvine. The study length will be 90 days with 60 veterans, and run out of the UCI Health Center.
The Veterans Action Council was well represented on multiple panels at the inaugural AMVETS Alternative Healthcare Summit, and Council Member Etienne Fontan was honored with the first AMVETS Dennis Peron Award for his pathfinding in the cannabis movement.
The Worsley’s / A letter from Alabama Appleseed
"In June 2020, Alabama Appleseed, an advocacy group, shared the story of Sean Worsley, a Purple Heart-decorated Iraq War veteran who was sentenced to five years in an Alabama prison for bringing his legally prescribed medical marijuana into Alabama. Sean’s case gained national attention as an example of how America’s senseless war on drugs continues to destroy lives. Despite mounting evidence that cannabis is a useful treatment that can help people like Sean manage the symptoms of PTS and pain he experiences as a result of his service as a combat engineer during the Surge.
Advocates from across the country, including VAC and its ally Dr. Sue Sisley, came together to uplift the Worsley’s story and raise money to support them with legal fees, expenses related to his incarceration, and the family's move to Alabama. In November 2020, thanks in part to the tireless advocacy of veterans and allies, Sean was released on parole.
Sean’s journey is not over and the harm he suffered can never be fully repaired, but he and his wife Eboni have finally relocated to California, where they feel safer than they did in Alabama. The Worsley’s story was cited by advocates who in 2021 successfully pressed Alabama lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis, a development that shocked observers of the arch-conservative state. His story is an inspiring example of how a terrible injustice can bring unexpected allies together to make real change. At the same time, it is a sobering reminder of how far America still has to go in caring for its citizens."
-Leah Nelson, Alabama Appleseed
Multiple members of the VAC have volunteered to help MAPS and Doc Sisley over the years, and we are proud to announce that support continues. We look forward to sitting down with Doc Sisley later in the fall for a roundtable updating y’all on the work she’s got going on.
The National Cannabis Industry Association has taken us under their wing, and will be helping us lobby on the Hill in the very near future. We look forward to putting in work with this leader in the field!
The Law Enforcement Action Partnership has been at the forefront of drug policy reform since their inception. We had the chance to sit down with their Executive Director Diane Goldstein for a roundtable on the importance of organizing for change. You can count on us partnering with LEAP going forward!
What’s Next? Finishing 2021 strong.
Join the Veterans Action Council on September 3rd at 1910 EST as we sit down with Professors
A group of us are going to be meeting up in NYC for the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, may or may not send out more information. More than likely we will post an AAR once the ceremonies are complete.
The Cannabis Science Conference East is going down in Maryland on September 13th, and the VAC will be there with bells on. Council Member Eryck Stamper has been putting in some serious work to make sure Veterans are represented at the event. BZ, Señor!
We’ll be joining our peeps over at Veteran Trash Talk on September 18th for some fun conversation, we’ll throw a link up to the YouTube video when it is ready.
That's it for the teaser, you get the point.
We have some amazing stuff planned for our second year, and we hope you join us!
Notable quotes from the last year'S meetings.
“We can’t legalize that, the fucking birds will stop singing!”
“Don’t be one dimensional”
“Veteran Phalanx, Someone’s Gonna Hit the Bullseye Eventually”
“The zeitgeist of change is under our wings”
“This is an equal partnership”
“Learn the rules so you can break them properly.”
“We built this big table, come grab a chair.”
“Setting the standard: Inclusion. Collaboration. Respect. Action.”
“The distance between expectations and reality is suffering”
“PROHIBITION IS KILLING VETERANS”
“Get selfish AF with your self care!”
“We need to show more compassion toward ourselves”
"Teamwork makes the dream work."
“We are shoring up the windows. Then we are going to create the surge.”
“Live your life early, so you can enjoy it a second time.”
“The universe smiles upon you.”
“Preparation meets opportunity.”
“Federal Patients: Federally Fucked.”
“We’re here to make unjust things, just.”
“This was caused by humans, it can be fixed by us, too.”
“The lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts its pants on.”
“We are men of action, lies do not become us.” - The Princess Bride
Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance
“With more knowledge, there is less fear.”
“People get fixated on bad apples - cops, DAs, judges. I think we have to talk about how the bad apples are the laws we put in their hands to use against people at their discretion.”
“When we come home to our family and friends, to our nation, should we have to beg and plead to live a healthy life?”
“There is only one way the government will be moved to compassion. It involves public exposure and it is accomplished via The Media.”
“Live your dash.”
“The floodgates have opened”
VAC Council Member Etienne Fontan shows off a tin he recently scored from Alice O'Leary Randall. This is the very first tin of pre-rolled cannabis Robert Randall received after his legal victory setting precedent for using cannabis as a "medical necessity."
VAC Council Members Etienne Fontan, Ricardo Pereyda, Michael Krawitz, and Robert Kowalski get together for a Strategy Sesh.
VAC Council Members get together for St. Patrick's Day :)
VAC Council Members with FAAAT Members Farid (France), and Kenzi (Spain) representing at the 64th Session of the United Nations Committee on Narcotic Drugs, in Vienna - April, 2021.
VAC Council Members join together for an International Strategy Sesh
VAC Council Member Pearson Crosby on the Cover of the 4/20 2017 edition of High Times. P.C. Mike Whiter