Roger Martin, a tall, goateed 62-year-old in a black suit and dark tie, had his white hair pulled back into a ponytail one day last week at the DoubleTree by Hilton. The simple style helped keep him moving without interruption as he worked with volunteers outside a small ballroom, trying to do six things at once. The occasion was Martin's Woodland Park-based group, Operation Grow4Vets, staging its second marijuana giveaway and information session.
All crises averted, he returned to a room where people were scattered, such as a gentleman with a walker and a pin on his hat that read "Gulf War Veteran" and a skinny man with a ready grin and bushy white beard wearing a faded Ed McCaffrey jersey. A deejay spinning "Could You Be Loved" sat on a stage at the front, while tables from organizations such as Von Alpenmac German Shepherds, a Black Forest breeder raising and training service dogs, lined the walls. Other tables showed off donated prizes for a raffle, which is the main way Operation Grow4Vets raises money, or offered information on strain-testing options.
"I'm not a big marijuana guy, by the way, you'll find out," Martin told the crowd. "I don't have anything against it, but I've just never been involved much in marijuana. I grew up in a little town in Nebraska [a] long time ago in the '60s and the '70s, and we pretty much had ditch weed, and you could smoke four pounds of it and probably take a nap and get a bigger buzz than [from] that."
But that changed somewhat in light of circumstances that, in 2010, saw Martin taking 180 milligrams of OxyContin every day and 30 milligrams of Ambien every night just to get by. And that experience led him to create an organization that solicits donations of bud, leaf, trim, edibles and growing equipment from individuals and dispensaries like 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, and then gives it all away to qualifying veterans in quantities lower than the legally limited ounce, mainly through events like the one at the DoubleTree.
Martin often references having served in the U.S. Army; in a post-event interview with the Indy, he declined to talk about what circumstances led to his own treatment. "Every word you spend talking about me is a word you don't spend talking about the people we're trying to help," he said, "and they're the ones that really I need to focus on." However, he said cannabis saved him from his prescribed regimen. And speaking to CBS This Morning for a June 25 segment, Martin said, "Anybody that's been on a narcotic medication especially wants to get off of it. I really have not met anybody who just enjoys being in a drug stupor."
So it's not surprising that Martin says Grow4Vets is "not about making veterans high. What we're about is helping veterans who have PTSD, TBI, chronic pain, other serious medical conditions, get cannabis into their hands so they can use it for medicinal purposes."
This extends to the option for people to pay $40 to $70 to have their marijuana products tested, a service that used to be offered at all cannabis laboratories before a state rule mandated that only industrial pot could pass through the licensed labs.
The change outraged Martin.
"Either these people [with the state] have a lack of compassion, or they're just bad people," he says. "Who would make a decision like that? The same idiots that decided PTSD wasn't a reason to get a red card in Colorado. I mean, who are these people who we allow to run the show for us? It's just beyond comprehension."
Running Grow4Vets' Woodland Park lab is Johnny Horne, a 24-year-old who recently finished a master's degree in biotechnology at Florida State University. "You can test plant material, extracts like oils and hash, or edibles," he says, noting that a gram of bud, or half a gram of extract, is the minimum needed. "And I keep that and we run it through a gas chromatograph, and using that we can elucidate the potency and different constituents."
It's just another volley in the battle to give veterans access to green care, one G4V is spreading to Arizona and Oregon, but which started right here.
"I had a guy come up at our Denver event with a Colorado flag folded up," Martin said. "And he said, 'I just wanted you to know that I moved to Colorado and Colorado saved my life.' I hear that — I get goosebumps just saying it now — but, stuff like that all the time; hundreds of vets telling us they're moving to Colorado because they're tired of being criminals. That's the kind of stuff that just motivates me to keep going."