On Halloween, the Cannaball Run for Vets crew cruised into Music City and the Downtown Nashville Library, where we attended the premiere of the documentary, Stray Dog. The film tells the story of Ronnie "Stray Dog" Hall, a motorcycle-riding Vietnam veteran dedicated to helping his fellow vets and his immigrant family as he comes to terms with his combat experience. Hall is a member of Rolling Thunder, a nationwide motorcycle club comprised mostly of veterans. They travel the country and each year gather in Washington, D.C., where over 900,000 members ride in on steel horses, flags proudly flying.
The movie depicted the struggles of a Vietnam vet who comes home from the jungle with memories that will haunt him. It shows his battle with PTSD and how he performs acts of kindness as a way to deal with the past. The veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq wars who were present in the room could easily relate to the man on the screen. Vietnam veterans in particular voiced their commitment to making sure future warriors would not be treated as horribly as their own generation was, but would instead receive the respect they deserve.
This is an uphill battle. PTSD has been known—as battle fatigue, shell shock, or soldier’s heart—since before the Civil War. The authorities may try to claim it was a pre-existing condition, but we know: When our brothers and sisters return, they are changed. One gentleman, David Frazier, related that when they were in the jungle and soldiers would be wounded to the point where they weren’t going to make it, they would be given a cannabis cigarette to comfort and relax them enough to fade away in peace. He also shared that the common smoking term "do a shotgun" was invented by troops in Vietnam, who would lodge a lit joint in the open chamber of an unloaded rifle and blow hits through the barrel. (An example of this can be seen in the movie, Platoon.)
The event was very rewarding and informative, with members of the audience speaking up for veterans’ rights and sharing stories of their struggle to transition back to civilian life. One gentleman shared how challenging it is for veterans to be able to trust civilians. Their brothers and sisters in arms, they can trust. There is a bond there. But it is difficult for them to feel anything but exiled from civilian society. When the soldiers return from battle, no one wants to hear about troubling wars or troubled warriors. The veterans themselves also have difficulty admitting they have problems. They don't like to talk about them or the war. Nothing is real but pain—and the relief they would get from cannabis if only they could. The VA administrators and doctors are willing to provide our ex-military with the natural medicine they need. But they are forced to wait for the bureaucrats in the federal government to take the boot off their necks and authorize it—including for PTSD and other war trauma—for all veterans who need it, in all states. Already some veterans in some states have legal access to cannabis for PTSD, but not all. Congress, certainly not busy getting much else done, could draft a bill and make it so, taking months; but the president or the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services could do it instantly, with the stroke of a pen. These are the people who need to be tirelessly pressured to take action. It is imperative we spread the word, to make our veterans feel they can trust us. They should be able to trust at least the cannabis community.
On Sunday, November 1, the Cannaball Run was welcomed with open arms at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville and invited to host their meeting. The audience included NORML members, veterans, patients, and "cannabis criminals." The group was bursting with an eagerness to learn. Bryan Wilson got to address the crowd about the industrial hemp that is currently being grown in Kentucky. They have bred the cannabis plant down to be virtually devoid of all THC but have high levels of CBD, and then they chop the plant before it has a chance to mature and produce even a trace of psychoactivity. Once the plant has dried, they transform it into a vast plethora of products.
There are 13 states where industrial hemp is already legal, and 10 more are considering it. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of "marihuana." It defines "industrial hemp" to mean the plant Cannabis sativa and any part of it having a THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent. It deems Cannabis sativa to meet that concentration limit if a person grows or processes it for the purpose of making industrial hemp in accordance with state law, unless the Attorney General determines that the state law is not reasonably calculated to comply with such definition.
Chris Whitener of MagicalButter.com took to the podium to share the Cannaball Run mission and speak about our journey. Through the stories of the road and the various people that he has met along the way, he was able to captivate and enlighten his listeners. Members of the audience were given the opportunity to share their thoughts and ask questions. Because many people are unaware of the many benefits and methods of ingesting cannabis, Chris gave an overview of a countertop appliance called a Botanical Extractor™, which converts cannabis into edible form, and showed those present how to produce their own herbal edibles. Visitors began to speak up and explain how the unit works for them and also to share their own recipes. This was an amazing and uplifting experience! The MagicalButter Users United page on Facebook welcomes visitors to share their experiences and recipes using the device, promoting healthy conversations for the “butterment” of humankind!
The meeting wasn't over until Vietnam veteran and singer/songwriter Richard Fagan blessed us with his singing talent. He sang an old ditty from 1978 praising the wonders of "merryhuana", which listed all the ailments it can alleviate, including glaucoma, diabetes, and menstrual cramps. This light-hearted tune had a serious message; but his next song, "We Don't Talk About the War," brought us to tears. It describes three generations of soldiers. Grandpa goes to war a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. When he comes back home, he tells Daddy, “We don't talk about the war.” Then Daddy goes to Vietnam, and when he returns, he says the same to his brother and son—who both enlist on their 18th birthdays. The song is one that many can relate to. Richard sang from the heart, and it was an absolute honor to hear him perform. The event concluded with a meet-and-greet, giving everyone the opportunity to connect and communicate further.
Hope Springs Eternal in Spring Hope, North Carolina
The 2015 Cannaball Run for Veterans rolled into the next stop on our trek, Spring Hope, NC, on November 4 with eager anticipation. Hemp, Inc., the largest industrial hemp processing facility in the US, was so kind as to donate $10,000 to the Cannonball Run and the Weed for Warriors Project and to invite us to tour their facility. Although it became legal in North Carolina last week, they are not yet growing or processing hemp (unlike nearby Kentucky). Instead they are processing cannabis's cousin kenaf, a.k.a. Deccan hemp, Java jute, and Hibiscus cannabinus. Kenaf contains no psychoactive compounds or cannabinoids whatsoever, but it yields hempen fiber and oil.
The facility was quite impressive, featuring a state-of-the-art machine called a decorticator, invented 150 years ago and designed for stripping off the outer layer from hemp stalks to enable further processing. The facility spans three buildings and is surrounded by 50 acres of kenaf reaching heights of up to 12 feet. Chief Operating Officer David Schmitt took us on a tour and explained the process of decortication. The machine they use came from Germany and took over two years to build. From there it was shipped to North Carolina for assembly. It took a full 16 months to set up the behemoth and get it ready for hemp production.
Currently, kenaf is being processed for the oil drilling industry and automotive industry. We were amazed to learn that up to 70 percent of a car's interior is made out of natural fibers, including hemp. (The car’s body and fuel can be made from it as well.) Almost all the world's industrial hemp is grown in China, and several companies in America import the hemp for use in products of nearly every kind imaginable. It will make more sense (cents) to grow the industrial hemp domestically, thus dramatically cutting costs and creating American jobs, revitalizing the American farm and farmer. Because of its versatility and relative ease of cultivation, there is virtually no limit to the profits that industrial hemp can yield. David is hopeful that they will be able to grow hemp very soon here in North Carolina. The help plant is far more conducive than kenaf to what they are currently creating. They grind the core of the stalk to a fine powder product called “lost circulation material” for drilling rigs, which is used to maintain the seals on drills for water, oil, and natural gas. In addition to being the plant kingdom’s longest and strongest, most versatile fiber, the core of the hemp plant is known as the most absorbent material in the world. Check their website, hempinc.com, for more details on what they are creating.
Once the plant is ready to harvest, they chop it four inches from the ground and let it lie in the field for up to a week. As it dries, they collect the stalks and compact them into huge bales. They had several barns full of kenaf bales. A forklift is used to place the bales onto the conveyor of the decorticator. The kenaf runs through a series of grinders and pneumatic tubes until it reaches the end. They strip the bark off the stalks to be turned into yarn and rope and other textiles.
Aside from the multi-billion-dollar timber, plastic, flax, soybean, cotton, oil, and cannabis-prohibition industries, there is virtually universal consensus that industrial hemp should be legal for cultivation and manufacturing throughout the U.S.; and universal hope that it will be the savior of the nation's economy, creating permanent jobs for farms large and small throughout the land and revitalizing many different industries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, our Founding Fathers wisely required hemp cultivation in the American colonies, in order that the new republic might have a source of steady income. Then in the 20th century it was banned. Five years later in 1942, the federal government waged the famous “Hemp for Victory” campaign, begging and bullying farmers nationwide to switch to raising hemp for the war effort. Then it was banned again, turning all those patriotic victory farmers into criminals overnight. Now it’s being re-legalized for a third time. Can they be blamed for hearing strains of “Don’t Get Fooled Again” echoing in their heads?
It’s enough to make the sane people wonder why the other people are the ones in charge—and what they’re up to.