APTOS—A long line of U.S. military veterans was outside an Aptos cannabis dispensary Monday, waiting their turn for a free monthly package of marijuana.
Called the Veterans’ Compassion Program, the service is the overarching mission of the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance (SCVA). Through it, people who have served in the military—and many of whom suffer from a host of maladies resulting from it such as PTSD, stress and chronic pain—receive free marijuana.
Using cannabis is thought to reduce reliance on addictive opioids.
SCVA ran Watsonville’s first permitted growing facility after voters in 2016 legalized recreational marijuana and recently relocated its Mid-County retail outlet—called Cultivate Aptos—to 7887 Soquel Drive in Aptos.
The company plans to open Watsonville’s second retail establishment—Cultivate Watsonville—adjacent to its 274 Kearney St. growing facility by the end of the year.
The retail outlets support the group’s efforts to help veterans, says co-owner Aaron Newsom.
SCVA has counted as its clients veterans from WWII, the Vietnam and Korean wars and the more recent conflicts in the Middle East.
Newsom served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2002-2008. When he returned, he says that marijuana helped him deal with hyper-vigilance, anxiety and depression he felt following his service. He began to grow it for himself under Proposition 215, which allowed for medicinal marijuana. With enough to share, he began to do so with his fellow veterans. SCVA was founded in 2011.
“It just helped me so much in regards to my personal growth and me being able to not necessarily go towards other harmful pharmaceuticals,” Newsom said. “I had safe access because I was cultivating it myself.”
Then, with Proposition 64 overwhelmingly passed by voters, Newsom and co-owner Jason Sweatt—who was also growing it for himself—saw a way to expand and strengthen their services.
The contact with veterans afforded by the compassion program is also a way to connect with those who are not enrolled with the Department of Veterans Affairs and who are at risk of falling through the cracks, Newsom says.
“We saw a purpose there that we could give back a portion of what we grow to the veterans in our community,” Newsom said.