Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance-grown cannabis is now available in Los Angeles through Stizzy, with every eighth going back to the cause.
After its founding in 2011, SCVA would go on to inspire other folks who wanted to provide cannabis to veterans recovering from the physical and psychological toll of their service. Most notable is the Sacramento-based Weed for Warriors Project with its eight chapters in California and four more around the country.
Now that SCVA is available locally, we wanted to give you the chance to find out about the compassion-based entity that will be celebrating a decade of service to its fellow veterans next year. To get the full tale, we reached out to founders Jason Sweatt and Aaron Newsom to hear how things kicked off all those years ago, and what it’s been like over the last few years for a business model based so deeply on compassion.
“Aaron and I started this, and you know it was all about him and I being in the garden and then giving a portion of our harvest back to the veterans community and stuff,” Sweatt told L.A. Weekly. “We created this thing in 2011 and we’re getting ready to hit our 10-year anniversary next year. It’s been a whirlwind and ride, you know, coming from the semi quasi-legal – or whatever you want to call it – to the regulated market.”
The two met by chance as Newsom worked to care for his garden.
“[Sweatt] worked in a local hydroponic store. I was up here, using the GI Bill to go to college for agriculture, organic AG, and doing my own little side grow under Prop. 215,” Newsom told L.A. Weekly. “I would be in the hydro store all the time, you know, getting products, and one day I went in there with a Farmer Veteran Coalition hat.” The hat proved to be the spark of their collaboration.
Newsom said among the things reinforcing the ethos of their plan was the fact cannabis agriculture had proven very therapeutic for both of them separately. While noting he was in the air wing and not infantry personally, Newsom reflected on the wider aspect of moving from a life where you’re kicking doors in on a daily basis to creating life with seeds on a daily basis.
“Creating life on a daily basis by planting seeds and taking cuttings and watching plants mature. Watching life be generated and then generate medicine, then harvesting that medicine, and then curing it and caring for it and then getting into the patient’s hands. And seeing smiles be produced and seeing healing take effect has been such a profound aspect of this,” Newsom said.
The SCVA first met at Santa Cruz dispensary Kind Peoples. Within a couple of months, they’d outgrown the location. “We started having meetings all around town, mostly at the VFW, and then they kind of ran us off over there,” Sweatt said. At their peak, around 200 veterans were coming to take part.
But they never stopped growing through the early popularity hurdles. Eventually, they would open a 5,000 square foot garden to backbone their operation. To this day, the facility produces their signature Kosher Kush and Super Sour Diesel phenos, among others.
A few years later, in 2017, they would work to get a retail storefront open to serve as the mechanism they would need to distribute medicine to veterans in the world of legal cannabis.
“We opened our store in 2017, and then bam, Prop. 64 hits,” Sweatt said with a laugh. “It was a lot of paperwork.”
One of the hardest parts of the transition to the legal market was all the new taxes on the pot they were giving away for free. Many compassion programs halted or scaled back in the time period between Prop. 64 being enacted and SB34 creating a mechanism to provide tax relief to those who wanted to give medicine away free.
We asked Newsom if the stress of the legal hoops associated with the legal market ever take away from the personal healing process he got out of gardening and helping out so many peers. He said it didn’t because the pair obviously saw an opportunity to have a business to be able to fund the nonprofit motto. “We’re trying to make sure that this is something that we can have longevity and so being able to have a brand and a business where the community can benefit from the medicine and the hard work that we do,” he replied.
In the end, METRC would work with SCVA amongst others to create the procedures and mechanisms required to make the existence of entities like SCVA more viable. But Newsom worries their voice may get lost in the corporatization of the industry as it fills up with businesses who were founded without a cause or compassion in mind.
“It’s not necessarily easier to have a voice now. We’re not huge, you know? It’s hard to compete with our 5,000 square feet with people who have multiple 22,000 square foot permits. And so we’re trying to keep our head above water and compete and not get drowned out, and just hopefully our mission is strong enough to survive. I honestly think that it is.”
Sweatt told us SCVA hopes to expand its compassion program and the standard operating procedures people needed to do it to L.A. after the new year. But for now, we asked if buying those SCVA jars on the shelves help the cause even if they can’t give it out here yet.
“One-hundred percent. Every product that you know helps us give back to our community. We used to use a lot of that stuff to fund events like beach cleanups and barbecues,” Newsom replied. “Obviously, since the pandemic we’ve had to slow down on that a little bit, but we have not stopped donating medicine to every veteran, every single veteran that comes into our dispensary.”
Newsom also recently appeared on Propagating Purpose, where he spent a couple of hours going into the history of SCVA and veteran-specific compassion programs.