As it’s Armed Forces Day on 20th May, we thought it would be great to have Life D. Griffith in-studio for ETC on Wednesday 17th May 2017. Life is the Founder of two organizations: Veterans Health Solutions (VHS) and Veterans Cannabis Alliance (VCA). He served as a combat medic for eight years, then spent 11 years in the Army Reserve.
Life is a passionate, eloquent (and unfailingly polite) man who, like so many of us, wants to see the cannabis industry serve the interests of the people and not special interest groups. We decided to have an early morning chat before his appearance on the show …
When and why did you start using cannabis?
I started using cannabis in 2004 when I returned from the military. I was a combat medic and, of course, when you’re dealing with the mission out there you cannot use natural remedies to help support whatever ailments you might have obtained after your military experience. So, when I left after 2004, and because of my medical background, I started looking at alternatives to generic drugs that were being forced upon the military and those with medical problems.
Now, as a younger person – I was a little bit like Bill Clinton. I held it in my hands but didn’t smoke it. I tried it and, as I became clearer about the medicinal value of cannabis, I started using it. Then I started to get involved and learn more about it, so I could be clear on what I’m doing. You know, a lot of people who use cannabis without any education on what this plant does to the body.
How old were you at this point?
I was around 38/39. I was never really a cannabis user or alcohol drinker, even though I was around those things. Because of the issues I had medically, I started using it.
What’s the Veteran’s Affairs (VA’s) attitude towards cannabis like? Are they opening up to it?
Well, let’s be clear about who the VA is. The VA was established to help support veterans transition from military life back into a quality of life that’s supposed to be excellent. The VA’s stance on cannabis has always been a sensitive one because of the federal laws that say cannabis is a schedule I drug. So the VA is kind of off using or recommending it until the laws have changed.
Now, my experience of working with the VA is plentiful when it comes to cannabis. There are policies in the VA that talks about how veterans can use cannabis-related products as long as the state they’re in has a medical marijuana programme. The doctors can’t prescribe it. But the patient can discuss their treatment with the doctor, and the doctor can annotate it on their record.
In my case, with my primary care physician, I expressed to him that “Despite the opiates you’re giving me, I’m using cannabis as an alternative. Now, he can’t stop me from doing that, and he can’t stop me from telling him that. He can’t even talk to me about it, because most of them are not familiar with it. They’re often bound by VA policies, licensing issues and so on. A lot of these doctors are scared of losing their license, so the VA has a very, very – to me – “standoff” position when it comes to cannabis at the moment. Will that change? Yes. We have a VA secretary now who is an advocate of cannabis, but because of the propaganda machine, we still have some problems with the VA.
Do you feel that the VA does a good job of representing veterans, or is there a cut-off between the VA and the people on the ground?
No. The VA represents the stakeholders’ interests. Does that include military officers? No. You have to understand that, once a person takes off that uniform, the focus changes. No longer are we entitled to anything. We have to go through a process to get things like disability. So when it comes down to it, who does the VA represent? The people who control the VA, who are politicians.
Is there a huge cut-off from the VA and the people on the ground? Yes. Are the VA trying to establish some kind of rapport with those on the ground? They’re trying. I think their methods could be changed. I think there needs to be more interaction between those on the ground and those upstairs. You can’t lead being upstairs. You have to come out to the trenches.
That’s something I’ve learned as a non-commissioned officer myself. That, when working with those you’re claiming you take care of, how do they know you’re serious if you’re not on the ground with them? You have to get out there. That’s my own opinion and experience of working with the VA.
What are they doing well? They are trying to improve some things; but again, it’s a process internally that needs to be cleaned up, from the management level all the way up to senior level … There are civilians controlling what goes on in the VA and, even if they’re sympathetic, they lack the understanding of what veterans go through … We have to take initiative, and we can’t necessarily wait for the VA or government to help us.
Of course, we talked for a lot longer about all sorts of things, including the politics of special interest groups, how cannabis could have evolved alongside humankind, and Life’s favorite strain (which is OG Kush, by the way).Talking to Life was a delight, and we hope you can share the delight by joining us on ETC come 05/17/17.
If you want to help out and see how you can get involved in Veterans Health Solutions, check out their website here: http://veteranshealthsolutions.org. He will also be holding a cannabis education workshop on May 21st. Details here: http://veteranshealthsolutions.org/vhs-events/.