Although U.S. military veterans can legally purchase medical marijuana in 34 states, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs prohibits its care providers from recommending or helping patients obtain cannabis.
The Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, making it federally illegal. Until this designation is changed or federal restrictions are otherwise modified, V.A. prescription medication treatment options for things like chronic pain and post traumatic stress disorder favor more addictive drugs like oxycontin and benzodiazepines.
“There is a large population of military veterans heavily addicted to opiods,” says Todd Scattini, a West Point graduate who served for decades as an army officer overseas before relocating to Kansas City, where he runs multiple cannabis companies while advocating for veterans to obtain easier access to the plant.
“Veterans are screaming from the top of the roof that this stuff can save their lives.”
Scattini is the chairman of Blue Diamond Ventures LLC, a portfolio of cannabis-centric companies that range lab testing the product for commercial sales in Missouri to helping aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs obtain licenses to cultivate, sell, process and transport the plant in other states where marijuana is legal or trending that way. In this capacity he also created The Athena Protocol, which researches how cannabis impacts patients with traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He regularly reports findings to elected as well as senior military officials.
Rather than lobbying the FDA to ease restrictions on medical marijuana, Scattini is focusing his efforts on the Department of Defense, where served as a defense attache out of Slovenia from 2013 to 2016.
“The department does not profit from cannabis,” he said, “and they have the largest patient population in the country.
Joining Scattini and other veterans advocating for medical marijuana is Nick Etten, who founded the Veteran’s Cannabis Project in 2016. A Navy Seal turned venture capitalist who now serves as Vice President of Government Affairs for New York-based cannabis corporation Acreage Holdings, believes it is essential for veterans to have easy access to alternative treatments like medical marijuana.
“I see these guys on pill cocktails of opiates and benzos and it’s turning them into zombies,” he said. “Once you get past the magical part and start looking at cannabis scientifically it gets really interesting.”
The Chicago-area native and resident says the Department of Defense was “ill-equipped and ill-prepared” to treat the onslaught of soldiers incurring brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. The V.A., he says, needs to update its treatment protocols for PTSD but acknowledges that getting a big hospital to adapt quickly is, “like turning around an aircraft carrier in Burnham Harbor.”
In the meantime, working for a publicly-traded cannabis company with a politically connected board that operates in multiple U.S. states gives him a line into conservative lawmakers who are resisting the normalization of the industry.
Etten can relate to their resistance. He grew up adamantly against smoking pot. It was not until his recent experience looking into the scientific research on the plant’s treatment on brain injuries that he decided to give it a chance.
“Finally I decided to try it myself and then wondered, ‘Where has this been all my life?’” he mused. “It’s not a panacea, but it is safe, effective, reliable and plentiful.”