Following the rules is a critical part of military service. Even the slightest act of disobedience can cost someone their life in a combat situation, and that training and strict adherence to logic follow many veterans for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, because of cannabis’s status as a Schedule I drug in the United States, many military service members do not feel safe or comfortable consuming it either recreationally or as part of their treatment for the effects of PTSD. However, with the legalization of recreational cannabis in countries including Canada, as well as in multiple states here in the U.S., the time has arrived for a more in-depth conversation about the benefits of cannabis for veterans. I recently sat down with Steve Danyluk, military veteran and founder of Warfighter Hemp. Here’s what he had to say.
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: Steve, what branch were you in?
STEVE DANYLUK: I retired from the Marine Corps Reserves in 2014, and my wife is still on active duty.
Oh my goodness, Semper Fi!
Steve: Semper Fi! How about yourself?
Marine Corps! I was 2nd Supply Battalion and did eight years. 2011 was my final year.
Steve: We spent a lot of time at [Camp] Lejeune. [My wife] Valerie is a lawyer, and she was a judge at Lejeune when we were there. I was at second Anglico, and then when I was inactive I was at Cherry Point most of the time.
Maybe it was me, but I felt like we had bonded already, and I could talk to him like an old friend. I continued on with a new perspective, and even more excitement for the interview.
So what did you do in the Marine Corps? What was your occupational specialty?
Steve: I was a EA6-B Pilot.
Nice. I did flight control when I was stationed in Iraq, and since I was supply I did logistics, tracking, and was a pallet rider as well.
Steve: Awesome! So now you’re a journalist? That’s a big transition.
It is! I’m a content creator and I specialize in international cannabis with a focus on tourism. I go back and forth between Jamaica and Canada a lot.
Steve: Nice. I flew a young lady to Jamaica—her family owns a marijuana farm down there and we talked a lot about that market. Bob Marley even has his own CBD line.
I know the CBD market is expanding into a silent giant, so how did Warfighter Hemp begin? Do you suffer from PTSD or anything like that?
Steve: I was in Iraq in 2004-05 with a reserve unit from West Palm Beach, and it was pretty active. I was exposed to the amazing lengths we would go to on the battlefield to keep men and women alive. After I got back it was the complete opposite. It was like, we kept you alive but now all we want to do is give you pills to keep you complacent. The follow-up care was abysmal. I worked at Walter Reed Medical Center for a time, often dealing with families. We were treating a lot with pills, and trying to get the guys discharged as quickly as possible. We’re not taking care of Marines and it is going to come back and haunt us at some point.
I completely agree. So, Warfighter Hemp was birthed out of you recognizing that after they come home they are not getting the help that they need?
Steve: Exactly! I started a non-profit in 2009 because one of the things really bothering me was the paralyzed veterans. They would typically get minimal care and were discharged as soon as possible. So I started a non-profit to get high tech wheelchairs and provide alternative physical rehab. That’s when I found out that veterans were self-medicating with cannabis, and didn’t want to keep taking all these “zombie dope cocktails.” It turned them into non-functional human beings for the most part.
Right…I get it.
Steve: I joined the military when I was 17 years old, so I’ve never been pro-marijuana. The single greatest change in the military was when DOD instituted the drug screenings.
Steve then told me of two negative incidents that he heard about before enlisting, involving military personnel who appeared to be high while on duty. It has never been confirmed in these cases that the personnel involved were in fact consuming cannabis. However, the rumors indelibly shaped Steve’s own opinions on cannabis for many years to come.
So everything that you had been exposed to up until that point about cannabis had been negative and you knew that you wouldn’t mix that in your lifestyle at all. Is that correct?
Steve: Right. I can’t now as an airline pilot, either. But when I was working with these paralyzed guys I discovered that a large number of them were using cannabis to deal with pain, anxiety, and all the other issues. I had to admit it was working for them better than what the VA was giving them.
Tell me what that turning point was like.
Steve: They’re human. The difference is obvious. Within seconds I can go to an event and say that vet is on Hydrocone or a laundry list of meds.
How did Warfighter Hemp come about?Steve: The non-profit did really well, but after things started to wind down in 2013 there weren’t that many people coming back from active duty to serve. So I started thinking about the other need, which was over-medication. This is where the Marine Corps Mafia came in. A buddy of mine who was stationed with the reserve unit Denver suggested I try to look into relationships with the marijuana community, because it could be helpful to raise money and distribute to veterans. So I went out to Colorado and made a pitch to Colorado Cultivars, the LLC that owns the farm we get our product from. We now have an exclusive partnership with the farm and half the profits from the sales go to veteran charities.
Nice! How often do you go out and view the farm?
Steve: I was out there two weeks ago. At least two or three times a year. The farm is the largest industrial hemp farm in the United States. This year the grow is 2,200 acres. We are certified organic and kosher. Most of the CBD on the market derived from hemp is grown in China or Eastern Europe right now—or many reasons, like American farmers can’t get crop insurance, and there’s still a big stigma. Our stuff is grown, dried, and processed on the farm so you’re getting farm to mouth. Our selling point is that we are veterans, and we’re not doing this to make money, we’re doing this to help.Do you get a lot of feedback about your products?
Steve: Unbelievable. I can send you the last 100 reviews of the good, bad, and ugly. I have yet to see ugly.
Which of your items works best for veterans?
Steve: The 4500 milligram. The downside is that it’s so expensive. Right now we’re offering a 25% discount to all veterans who verify. On Veterans Day we’re going to bump it up, and eventually get it up to 50%.
How are you marketing or letting vets know about it?
Steve: Talking to many people like you. Hopefully get our name out there. Social media is great. Word of mouth from veteran to veteran is huge. It’s slow but it’s interesting to see how we’ve grown month to month from when I filed the LLC last October.
That’s the trajectory of the entire industry. Where do you see your company in 5 years, along with the cannabis and veteran intersection?
Steve: I think it’s about more than just the product. I think these men and women who come back have other issues, and CBD is not the end all. Nothing is. We need a more holistic approach. What we want to do is continue to build a community, and CBD is one tool to build that base. I go to a lot of veteran events, and to be able to go and talk shit is so healing.
Do you foresee any bills being passed?
Steve: I’m here in DC so I lobby on the hill quite a bit. The House Veterans Affairs Committee has been asking the VA to do a study on medical marijuana for years. HR 5520 changed the verbiage to medicinal cannabis, which was a game changer because that opened the door for CBD derived from industrial hemp. The excuse the VA was giving up until this point was that it was Schedule I drug, so they couldn’t do a study on it. HR 5520 changed the language, so just study the motherf*cker! What I’m trying to do is get more media exposure and say you have a US product founded by veterans to help veterans, so there’s no reason you can’t do a study on this.
A portion of your proceeds go to veteran organizations. How do you pick who you support?
Steve: Our users recommend different organizations. We’re getting ready to come out with a pet line and we have a customer who has a service dog organization for veterans—that’s an example of one we’d like to support. Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric do hyperbaric therapy for veterans, same with Lance Corporals Lutz Live To Tell and Defenders of Freedom out of Dallas.
So where can people find you?
Steve: Warfighter Hemp Info Group on Facebook is a great resource because you can talk to people who are using it.
I thanked Steve for his time and ended the interview feeling this sense of instant camaraderie with a complete stranger over basic commonalities like cannabis and prestigious organizations. Veterans are just people who have to find ways to cope with previous occupational hazards and traumas that others couldn’t imagine. Some days are better than others, but the ones who have found cannabis swear by the significant difference.