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Veterans Battle To Keep Cannabis Dispensary Open

MODESTO (CBS SF) -- One of California's best known and longest running cannabis dispensaries won't be forced to shut its doors - at least for now.

The dispensary -- Jayden's Journey -- and its special customers are anxiously waiting for the final word from Stanislaus County officials on the fate of the clinic.

The dispensary's clientele are dozens of military vets, who feel angry, hurt, and betrayed.

"It's gut-wrenching not only to myself but to everyone here." said U.S. Air Force Veteran Chris Barnes, who lost a leg and suffers from severe nerve pain.

The main reasons they use cannabis, the veterans explained, is for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, pain, or depression.

"It clears my mind. It don't make me crazy and I can sleep ," said World War II Veteran Don Pruett.

For the past 2 years, Barnes and other veterans have beaten a path to dispensary's door seeking relief from physical and psychological pain lingering from their service.

"I'm a veteran United States Marine Corps," said Andrew Delfino. "I've served 8 years."

"Iraq.. I was in Iraq twice," added U.S. Army Vet Carlos Torres

"Army National Guard for about 5 years." recounted Christopher Garcia.

"I was career Navy. I joined at 17, and retired at 37 after 20 years," explained U.S. Navy Veteran Keith Harvey.

The vets gather once a month in Modesto to attend a support group run by Tactical Patients, a nonprofit Vets Organization.

"We created this space so we could bring veterans out of isolation and into basically a safe haven," explained Jerry Zuniga, who runs the group and is a U.S. Marine Veteran.

The dispensary has become a safe haven where these veterans can socialize, learn about services, get free massages, acupuncture, as well as a good meal. They also get discounts on the cannabis they use to treat both physical and psychological injuries.

"I was struck by an IED while inside my vehicle," said Delfino.

He lost consciousness and woke up with compound fractures throughout his spine. Today, he continues to suffer from debilitating headaches.

Harvey, meanwhile, battles depression.

"I have debilitating depression where I don't really want to get out of bed," he told KPIX 5.

Scott Halsey was severely injured in wreck while on duty.

"I broke my L1 thru L5 in my lower back, both shoulders, both collar bones, both elbows," he said. "I got scalped and I had a 6 inch pole gap - a device they would use to climb telephone poles - went thru my skull and into my brain."

Torres declined to specify what happened but explained the consequences.

"I'm in the house by myself I don't want to be around nobody don't want to talk to nobody," he said.

Many say they actually prefer using cannabis over the medications prescribed by the Veterans Administration, which include prescriptions for powerful opioid painkillers.

"What's our number 1 issue right now? Opioid epidemic - our doctors are giving us," explained Delfino.

"The opioids they'll rot your kidneys, your liver, your pancreas.. cannabis won't" maintained Halsey.

Since Prop. 64 became law, the county decided to license only a small number of cannabis companies under a new program. Out of 61 applications, Jayden's Journey did not make the cut. A third party consulting firm gave the dispensary a low, disqualifying score.

A county official declined an on camera interview with KPIX News, but referred the news station to a letter posted by him on the county's website.

As for the low-score, the owner of Jayden's Journey is dumbfounded.

"But our lawyers went through our paperwork and said there were 8 pages wrong in how they graded us," said Jason David, who owns the dispensary.

He is appealing the decision.

"We won't stop fighting for our veterans, they never stopped fighting for us," he told KPIX 5.

For Zuniga, he sees the action as another setback for his fellow vets.

"Barriers is what keep veterans in isolation," he said. "This is exactly another barrier."

They have invited lawmakers to attend a group meeting to see the good they do, but to date, no one has come.

"I don't think it's right." commented Pruett.

These vets said they're not about to give up because the stats are grim: According to the federal government, on average, twenty veterans die by suicide every day.

"Very close to becoming a statistic myself, .. or a number," said Zuniga, wiping away tears.

He suffers from chronic pain and PTSD, and started drinking to push away destructive thoughts and memories.

"And I stopped drinking and I started using cannabis because a fellow veteran told me about the benefits of using cannabis," he said.

On June 29th, the day before the dispensary was ordered to shut its doors by the county, David made an appeal in front of a special panel. He was told the dispensary could remain open with a final decision expected by July 15th.


Jayden's Journey

Tactical Patients

Traumatic Brain Injury

Stanislaus County Cannabis Program

Suicide Among Veterans Report updated August 2017

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