SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - A Santa Cruz nonprofit group that provides free medical marijuana to veterans says plants beat pills.
Every first and third Monday of the month, hundreds of veterans line up at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building to pick up a brown bag full of free cannabis.
"We believe that cannabis is a safer and healthier alternative to all of the pharmaceuticles opioids, psychotropics that we receive from the V.A," said co-founder of Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, Aaron Newsom.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs nearly 60 percent of those returning from war suffer from chronic pain and more than 60,000 of them take opioids to relieve that pain but become addicted. After fighting in Afghanistan, Thomas Evans said he didn't know he'd have another battle to face at home.
"I noticed that I was a lot different I didn't have pleasure in the things that I used to enjoy doing. I was in a very bad mental state. I was very isolated, kept to myself," said Evans.
The Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance said that's why they started filling their own bags of medicine. The bags had things like cannabis flowers, concentrates, and capsules. The effects have been so positive, nearly 450 vets pick up a bag each meeting.
"Without a organization like Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance there is no way I'd be able to get my medication it's just too expensive to afford on my own and the V.A. doesn't cover it," said Evans.
The Veterans Alliance cultivates it's own marijuana and donates a percentage of that to medical card holding members for free. To be eligible for a brown bag, bring proof of military service, a doctors recommendation and California I.D.
"Veterans we've given a lot and then some for the freedoms that we have in this country and I hope that we're given the opportunity to show the public that this is a medicine and that we demand to have the right to choose the medicine of our choosing to heal our wounds from war," said Newsom.