“It is absolutely ridiculous and unfair to our women and men in uniform,” said Zak Garcia when asked about the Department of Defense’s memo issued earlier affirming that hemp-derived CBD products were off-limits to active duty service members and reservists. Garcia, the CMO of CBDCapitalGroup and an Army veteran who spent two tours in the Middle East — including a year in Iraq — knows better than most about the benefits of cannabidiol and the need to help soldiers returning from the front lines.
“Every day 22 veterans commit suicide in America, which is 130 percent more than the general population,” he told The PotNetwork via email. “I suspect that it is due to trace amounts of THC that could potentially show up on a drug test, but CBD is non-intoxicating and this is a travesty and a failure of leadership.”
It’s a sentiment that many in the armed forces agree with, including veteran and current Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. On Monday, Gabbard took the necessary first steps towards reversing the military’s position with the introduction of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which would end the CBD ban.
"The Secretary of Defense may not prohibit, on the basis of a product containing hemp or any ingredient derived from hemp, the possession, use, or consumption of such product by a member of the Armed Forces," read the amendment, which passed in the House with bipartisan support by a vote of 336 to 71. It still needs to go through the Senate before reaching the President’s desk for his signature.
Garcia commended Rep. Gabbard’s work on the amendment and urged other members of Congress not only to learn more about the issue but also to act upon it.
“[The CBD ban] is just a continuation of the lack of actual respect for our military members, veterans, and their families that have sacrificed so much for our nation,” said Garcia. “People (especially politicians) love to pay lip service and act like they care about the military, but their actions show that they don’t.”
“These laws don’t go far enough and until the FDA and other governmental regulatory bodies do more these bills will be very limited in their impact,” he continued.
Hemp, hemp-derived CBD, and other health and wellness products have been a passion product of Garcia’s for over a decade now. He was still in high school when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, which prompted him to join the military a few months later after his graduation. After his two tours, which he spent as a convoy commander on a combat patrol team, Garcia learned all he could about online marketing and the health and wellness sector.
It led to him becoming the Chief Marketing Officer for Bulletproof Coffee, a brand he helped grow by selling over $100 million worth of products. He did a few years on the consulting circuit, and then in 2018, along with his business partner David Metzler, he founded CBDCapitalGroup.
“We have seen how CBD can help people find relief for a variety of issues, and especially as an alternative to opioids,” he told The PotNetwork.
The company is an innovator in the space, helping CBD startups that already have some traction to scale their operations. According to Garcia, he and his partner developed a business model in which they invest in new brands and coach them through their different scaling challenges. “It’s very satisfying to help someone bring their dream into reality and support CBD entrepreneurs that are helping a lot of people find relief from pain and suffering,” he said.
And helping people, especially veterans, is of the utmost importance to him. As he told The PotNetwork, injuries often lead to problematic drug use and opioid use disorder in veteran populations. Many of these men and women are already dealing with debilitating post-traumatic stress from their time overseas, and opioids offer relief from their symptoms.
Veterans and those who are still active duty have found great relief from CBD, allowing them an opportunity to heal while also giving them a natural alternative to narcotic painkillers. But because it contains trace amounts of THC, CBD is prohibited under the UCMJ. And while veterans can use hemp-derived cannabidiol, for many, it is prohibitively expensive, as it is not covered by VA healthcare as treatment.
“More studies need to be conducted to sufficiently convince the FDA and other government regulators, but there are not any known side effects so it appears to be a very safe alternative to medications currently prescribed by the military and the VA,” said Garcia.
More and more fellow veterans have told Garcia that the DoD’s decision to ban CBD feels like just another disappointing decision by the “top brass.” They see it as a lack of appreciation for what they go through.
“If I were active duty I would at least be taking [100 percent THC-free CBD products] and not letting anybody know,” Garcia said.
For now, however, Garcia is hopeful about the possibility of Gabbard’s amendment becoming law but would like to see the military take things further.
“My hope is that at the very least CBD is not banned for active duty military and is covered by VA health insurance,” Garcia said. “I also hope that the VA covers medical marijuana for veterans as an alternative to other pharmaceutical drugs. I understand if the military doesn’t want active duty personnel to be high on duty, so maybe marijuana should be restricted similar to alcohol.”
“I have hope that the VA and the rest of the country will move toward accepting medical marijuana as a safe solution, but it may take a while longer to get there,” he continued.