The change in national perception towards cannabis here in the USA has been quite astonishing to witness over the 16 years I’ve been living here in the San Francisco ‘Bay Area’ having moved from London in 2003. Growing up in Britain I was surrounded with the general ‘Stoner spilling out of some kind of smoke filled vehicle’ imagery, or some other play on the lazy-good-for-nothing slacker stereotypes which were generally being imported from America at the time, but that imagery is rapidly evolving in today’s America...at least in places where cannabis has been made legal.
The general perception here is rapidly shifting towards something resembling reality; that cannabis users are just regular people, as anyone that’s been a user for any length of time knows. However, as I sit here writing an article in an attempt to convince you to help my cause, I’m reminded that America is a vast and complicated beast and that the fight to make cannabis fully legal in the eyes of the Federal Government, where it still remains under ‘Schedule 1’ listing, is far from being a done deal.
Cannabis As A Medicine
To a lot of Americans, cannabis remains an illicit substance evoking a subculture that’s a threat to their understanding of ‘the way things should be’ because, in many ways cannabis is exactly that: If cannabis becomes legal at the national level, nothing will be the same because cannabis and hemp will change the very fabric of society we live in. But the resulting fear of change can of course be leveraged in the court of public opinion to create resistance by directing that fear and turning it into anger which inevitably turns into hate... just like a rather well known 900 year old little green monk once explained a long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away.
The tactic is as old as civilization itself, but sadly it’s the playbook of choice in our modern age: Spread falsehoods until no-one knows what to believe and shout about them as loudly and often as possible so as to disrupt all argument. It’s a simple but devastatingly effective tactic...however, I believe there’s an antidote to it: Helping veterans get the right to grow their own cannabis. I came to the above conclusion during the filming of a documentary series I completed in March 2019 called VETSGROW which, alongside teaching a Vietnam vet to grow cannabis at home, included a dive into the veteran world of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a Government funded opioid epidemic that together have combined to create a number you might have seen publicized somewhere: “22 a day.”
The number refers to a Dept of Veteran Affairs (VA) report from 2013 that outlined that an average 22 veterans per day on average were taking their own lives, based upon data analysed from 1999 to 2010. There has been a revision of that number in the latest published report from the VA whereby it’s now understood to be 17 a day (22 included active service), however, every veteran I have spoken to refutes this number as being far to low because incidents such as road traffic accidents, overdoses and many other ‘death by misadventure’ cases are not included in the official numbers. Every combat veteran I spoke to during the course of production had lost someone to it, most knew several friends that had taken that route and at least half had thought of or even attempted it themselves at some point. But every one of the veterans I met said that cannabis unquestionably helped, and most said it had done nothing less then saved their very lives. If you ask a veteran if they consider cannabis to be a medicine, you will usually get a resounding affirmative.
An Accidental Activist
The experience of making VETSGROW completely transformed my life. In 2017 I became a US Citizen and decided that my first solo documentary film project would be about ‘learning‘ to be an American by going and seeing all of it on my Identity ride (aka RiDENTITY) inspired by a 2004 travel documentary called “The Long Way Round.” I’d decided that if I was to become an American, I should understand what it really meant and being an unabashed documentary addict, it meant watching everything Ken Burns has ever made for research, including all the war documentaries about American conflicts from the Independence War to Vietnam, via the Civil War and World Wars I & II. I sought to understand how America got where it is today by understanding how America came to be.
Whilst I worked on this plan I was also running one of the more well known cannabis education channels called Monster Gardens as part of my freelance client base. I’d been developing shows for them for a few years and had finally convinced them to let me investigate a ‘teach a novice to grow’ segment in the midst of binge watching my Ken Burnathon and reading up about the home-grow movement. Whilst researching I stumbled into a story about vets in Colorado not being able to afford cannabis to treat PTSD after legalisation due to the heavy taxation. It continued to discuss PTSD as a root cause of the “22 a day” - a number that made no sense at first, until I had a rude awakening. Up until then, I didn’t know veterans using cannabis was even ‘a thing’ let alone that the number 22 referred to suicide numbers and what I found horrified me and does to this day. To say I was triggered is probably the most obvious understatement imaginable considering I’m at word 949 and I haven't even gotten to the point yet.
Now that VETSGROW’s finished and I’m not so focused on the mechanics of making a 9 episode documentary all by myself, one of the things that stands out to me the most is that by nothing more than the mere act of exposing the cannabis plant and the process of growing it to a curious neighbourhood, we changed the minds of many who’d been fed nothing but prohibition era propaganda since birth. It was admittedly a gradual progression, beginning with a strange camera wielding motorcyclist turning up and filming a neighbourhood garage. It then escalated a few weeks later with the delivery of the grow tent & equipment before becoming impossible to ignore by the time an unmarked armoured car showed up with six small plants at the beginning of the grow.
The neighbourhood’s reaction to all this began with the odd curtain twitch, progressing to neighbours checking mailboxes a random intervals whenever my steed; “Tippy” the Beemer was in town, before evolving into a dog walking extravaganza whenever I’d show up once the clones were in. Our gardening student Al, a retired Navy veteran, had already had most of his close friends over as soon as the plants were installed, but after just a few weeks of growing many of his neighbors had also began visiting and asking all sorts of questions. Then one day while I was at the VETSGROW filming an update one of his neighbours stuck a head round the door while I had the cameras out and started talking to me as well.
It was amazing to see the overwhelmingly positive reactions to the story of how a motorcycle riding Brit woke up one day and decided to teach a veteran to grow cannabis...and that’s when the light bulb went off. It didn’t matter which side of the political spectrum those I spoke with were from, they all agreed vets should get access now and that’s when I realised that veterans are the last bastion of the truly bi-partisan issue. The vast majority of Americans want vets to get whatever they need to live a healthy life after their service and by showing those with minimal exposure to cannabis the amazing healing powers of the plant in person, the prohibition era misconceptions were being shattered one by one and the fact that a brand new immigrant citizen was driving it all intrigued everyone...the lightbulb went off: If we want to make cannabis legal everywhere, help vets grow!
20,000 Miles, 50 States, 100 More Vetsgrow’s
So convinced am I of this idea’s worth, that I’ve decided to carry on developing the VETSGROW idea with a plan for a much bigger project beginning in 2020. Remember that abandoned “lap the USA” I mentioned? Well it occurred to me that it’d make a pretty good delivery route, so I ditched the original plan and created a 4 month tour of the country to investigate the WHOLE story of cannabis in the USA while building veteran gardens on the way all to discover if 2020 is the year that American’s “Take the high road” - a name so obvious to me this project might as well have named itself...and here we are.
Which brings me to you...what can you do? Well for a start you can watch the series, eyeballs are what the Netflix’s of this world want to see after all, and if you like what you see; get involved. I have half a million dollars to raise, a hundred veteran students to find and a new homeland to explore while doing it...and it’s going to take more than my irritating levels of enthusiasm to accomplish...I need America’s help, so the question is; will you join me?
Matt Grimshaw - aka the Documattarian - is a self taught documentarian that’s been running YouTube channels in the NORCAL cannabis space since 2015 after a sixteen year career in science & technology publishing both in the UK and US. He’s a proud immigrant citizen and advocate for the Veterans Cannabis Group and Vet-Connect of Sonoma, two local non-profit groups that helped make his work possible. He’s currently working on sequels to his 2018 docu-series following a Vietnam veteran learning to grow medical cannabis at home called VETSGROW and is looking to build an army of help to support his bid to get around the country and spread awareness of veteran issues.
Contact Matt at VETSGROW@gmail.com
Images courtesy of Matt Grimshaw.
The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.
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