By | Kyra Skylark
Back in November of last year, California passed Proposition 64 legalizing the recreational use of cannabis for adults. The legislation will fully come into effect with the the opening of recreational dispensaries within the state as of Jan. 1, 2018. Since the legislation passed, advocates for medical marijuana have been fighting to inform the public of the some of the unforeseen repercussions of Prop. 64.
The legislation has eliminated access to many patients who have been prescribed medical marijuana for serious physical and psychological issues. Most affected within the population are the war veterans who use medical marijuana.
“With Weed for Warriors it’s about access,” said Sean Kiernan, one of the three veterans who run Weed for Warriors.
The Weed for Warriors Project helps to provide veterans with safe access to free medical marijuana and works to create an open community for the vets.
“Kevin started it with the idea that, ‘Hey, cannabis works, I just tried to commit suicide and now I’m smoking cannabis and I feel alot better than the pharmaceuticals that were given to me by the VA.’” said Kiernan.
The program was founded in 2014 by Kevin Richardson, a San Jose Marine Veteran who personally benefited from using medical marijuana to aid his disabilities that arose after his service.
“We’re all combat disabled vets, the guys who run it, and what we’re trying to do is help our brothers and sisters because we’ve been through this experience,” said Kiernan.
Currently, the project is run by three veterans Kevin Richardson, Mark Carrillo and Sean Kiernan. Richardson founded the project, Carrillo ran the first WFW chapter in Sacramento and helps lead other chapter branches.
“Kevin and I are both suicide survivors and Mark is 100+ disabled vet who has various issues,” said Kiernan.
Richardson founded the project and Kiernan is the president of the organization, while Carrillo is the CO and controls the different organization chapters.
The program is run by veterans for veterans, which creates a different level of understanding and trust within the program unlike similar organizations.
“We were free to do the right thing, not the thing that a sponsor wanted us to do, not the thing that the person financing us wanted to do, but just the right thing by our brothers and sisters.
The WFW mission statement on their website states, “The Weed For Warriors Project’s sole purpose is to advocate to the Veteran Affairs Administration on behalf of all Veterans.”
“So much of the problem with the VA, (The U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration) is that vets don’t feel like they can be who they are or be honest because it’s a system that is very binary,” said Kiernan. “It’s black and white and there are a lot of vets who try to get help there and end up coming out worse.”
WFW is fighting to increase the accessibility of medicine for veterans that have run out of options and have been turned away by other resources.
Sean Kiernan, the president of Weed for Warriors, was brought into WFW by Kevin Richardson in 2015. Kiernan joined the army out of LA in 1989 and was sent to Central America, where he was an airborne infantry soldier. After getting out, Kiernan lost a comrade in a helicopter shoot down in El Salvador.
After leaving the military Kiernan attended and graduated from UC Berkeley, and went on to work on wall street.
“There was this history of functionality to an extent,” said Kiernan.
Then Kiernan lost another friend to an AK47 assault rifle where he was shot 24 times in combat. When his Kyle’s death became a political landmine during the Obama administration, Kiernan’s trauma reached a breaking point and he looked to western medicine for the solution.
“I started to going psychiatric doctors, where they put me on all of these different medicines and pharmaceuticals, which sent me over the edge,” said Kiernan.
The prescribed medicines were not working for Kiernan and he only got worse. Seeing no other option Kiernan attempted to take his own life.
“I had a suicide attempt in 2011, that I blame on all of the pharmaceuticals,” said Kiernan.
After losing his medical insurance and being unable to regain coverage after his suicide attempt, Kiernan’s father encouraged him to seek out help from the VA. Kiernan described the line at the La Jolla VA Healthcare center as similar to the uncompassionate and systematic reception at the DMV.
“I walk in, the doctor hears my story and looks at me,” said Kiernan. “I come from a very different demographic than most of these vets because I’m coming from money, from working on wall street for almost two decades; so I have many things that these guys don’t have.
But walking into the VA that day Kiernan looked like any other vet who walks into the VA for help: homeless, troubled, and personally medicated.
Kiernan started to cry as he waited in the crowd to be seen by a medical professional. A nurse seeing him breakdown took him back to the emergency room and ran some tests. She then asked him if he would like to stay for voluntary observation, to which Kiernan responded, “Why would I want to do that?”
The nurse then informed Kiernan that his other option was to stay there for 72 hours for involuntary observation.
“In that moment right there you can learn a lot about the VA,” said Kiernan.
At this time, it had been three months since Kiernan’s friend Kyle had been shot and he was an active duty soldier, who had a file, and a previous suicide attempt.
“So they decided to keep me,” said Kiernan.
While he was being held by the VA under observation he met another veteran who had smuggled THC pills into the ward. For the three days Kiernan was at the VA he was helped and medicated not by the doctors and nurses attending him, but by another veteran within the ward.
“That’s really what catapulted me from being a screwed up dysfunctional vet going through all of my issues,” said Kiernan.
Using THC helped him more than any other medication had and he received it not from a professional, but from another veteran, someone he trusted.
The WFW chapters work to provide help and understanding the same way that Kiernan received help in the ward. Each chapter has monthly meetings where the veterans can come together in an inclusive and safe space, where they are supplied with medicine from the donations of local growers and dispensaries.
“These are veterans [referring to those who attend meeting]) who are medicating with cannabis daily, have suicide attempts, have pain; we have amputees who use it instead of thirty pills,” said Kiernan.
The meetings are different within different chapters but each provides a space for the vets to support each other and in return be supported themselves.
“At those meetings it’s not even about cannabis so much, although in the states where we can we get free meds to these vets [during the meetings] to help them medicate because it gets extremely expensive, but what it’s about is comradery,” said Kiernan.
The support aspect of the project is just as vital as the access to medicine. The meetings create a space where the vets can go and meet people who have experienced some of the same challenges.
“It’s about the comradery of coming together and helping each other, of knowing you’re not alone,” said Kiernan. “It’s not only the vets that come to these meetings, it’s the spouses and its family members who learn they’re not alone as well, it becomes one big support structure thats real.”
The local chapter here in Humboldt was created two years ago by Art Gutierrez and is now being run by a WFW member Gutierrez brought in, Pete O.
“Weed for Warriors for me, has brought hope,” said Pete O.
O was homeless and was spending all of the money he was supposed to be saving on marijuana simply so that he could function. More than anything all O wanted at that time was to get a full night’s sleep uninterrupted by nightmares.
Many of the WFW members here in Humboldt are homeless and/or are living off disability, and they wouldn’t have access to medicine without O and WFW providing it for them.
“It’s amazing, some of the guys look forward to our meetings all month,” said O. “We meet at 4:20 once a month on Wednesdays and some of the same guys show up early every time, just waiting for me to get there.”