Editor’s Note: This piece is Part 3 in a series of articles on Buckley and the Battle Brothers Foundation’s efforts to evaluate the use of medical cannabis in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for veterans.
In May of 2019, we were approached by the REACT Foundation, which is the nonprofit arm of Platinum Vape Cannabis Products. By that point, our veteran-owned and operated cannabis company, Helmand Valley Growers Company (HVGC), was working hard to getting our operation off the ground. A series of unforeseen obstacles forced us to constantly change – from moving our operation to Oceanside California to forming new relationships with leaders in the cannabis industry. Ultimately, we wanted to fund an official IRB study that would track the effects of medical cannabis in treating post-traumatic stress in military veterans.
Meeting the REACT Foundation was a step forward. The organization does a lot of with various benevolent organizations targeting issues like animal rescue, breast cancer, suicide prevention, children’s healthcare, LGBTQ+ pride, brain tumor treatment, and veteran support. We were asked if Battle Brothers Foundation would be interested in being REACT Foundation’s Veteran Support charity. We came down and met with the REACT team so they could discuss the program and what they could do for us.
It was my first time meeting with Platinum Vape and I was blown away by their operation. We discussed REACT working with Battle Brothers Foundation, and asked if they wanted to help us support veterans
By that point, our main investor fell through, and I feared that if we didn’t hit the market by the start of 2020, we might miss our window of opportunity. So, I decided to throw a Hail Mary and see if Platinum Vape would have any interest in working with our brand so that we could get HVGC product out into the adult-use market. With their support, we would be able to get the funding needed to become operational and see through our mission of seeing if medical cannabis could help reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Taking the tour of Platinum Vape’s facility, my mind started to run. All I kept hearing about during the tour was how much the founders of Platinum Vape, George and Cody Sadler, supported veterans. We were told that this is something that George and Cody would want to hear about, and they would see if they could set up a meeting. I was still driving back to my house when I got a call that George and Cody would want to meet with me that Wednesday.
My business partner, Brendan Ozanne, and I prepped for our meeting with George and Cody. It was different this time. Before when we met with potential investors, we had a war room and would rehearse any sort of questions we felt might come our way. We would have documents, financials, spreadsheets, and any other piece of literature that we could get our hands-on.
This time was different. We were not complacent or overconfident but knew that the Platinum team knew everything that we would tell them. They built a multi-state cannabis business, after all. They knew what it would take to be successful and had worked with numerous brands before.
Our job was simply to pitch them our mission and our vision. From what I knew about them, it would not take them long to know if this was something that would work.
During our pitch meeting, I was unsure if George and Cody were really into it. They were extremely nice and enjoyed what we were saying, but they have seen other companies fail before. They needed to see what was different about us.
Once we got into the research aspect, you could see their body language change. They kept looking at each other in a way that you knew what we were saying was very important to them.
What happened next, completely took me by surprise. George and Cody smiled at each other, nodded their heads, and George said they’d help move our mission forward. Not only that, but they’d also have their graphics team help out with a package design, develop a go-to-market plan, and best of all, to not worry about money.
“All we ask is that you make as a whole after you start selling. We do not want any profits. That is for your mission,” George told me.
If you ever watched the movie “Major League,” there is a scene when Wesley Snipes’ character Willie Mays Hayes makes the team. He did not want to show his emotion in front of the entire locker room, he very quickly walked outside the facility, and began to celebrate. That was exactly where my head was. I could not believe that we now had a path to make our conceptual ideas into reality. As far as I know, we were finally getting our product on store shelves at no cost – thanks to George and Cody’s benevolence.
In June of 2019, we had a green light to get our adult-use brand out into the California market. We set an aggressive date of September 1, 2019, to have our product on the shelves. The Platinum Vape team wished us luck with that. Little did we know how much would go into getting our brand to market.
By the beginning of 2020, we had everything set – logo, box design, promotional gear, advertising, and our carts were filled, ready to be sold. We were ready for the market, but was the market ready for us?
California is a very competitive market with over 200 brands working to get into all of the same stores. We had about $21,000.00 worth of inventory we had to move. These are not huge numbers, but we had to start getting this into shops.
We started to set up meetings with stores, but they were a little skeptical. Were we the real deal? Were we just trying to make a quick dollar and get out, without doing anything for our veterans? However, on February 2, 2020, we made our first sale. Things started to pick up, and soon after we were in 10 stores.
We were picking up momentum, then a global pandemic happened. Just like other small businesses across the country who just began, we were in utter disbelief. We have been trying to get to market since 2016, and we get there the whole world shuts down.
This is the life of an entrepreneur: Expect the unexpected and learn how to pivot. Once again, we had some luck on our side. The State of California deemed cannabis “essential,” and allowed legal cannabis businesses to remain operational as long as they followed protocols provided by the CDC. We made a large marketing push – participating in popular cannabis podcasts, constantly posting on social media, and paying for advertisements. We did whatever it took to keep us at the forefront of consumers and stores.
It worked, little by little, our business was growing, even during a pandemic. We were even able to hire new people.
In June of 2020, after months of hard work, we had enough profits to pay for a study design that we would submit to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for approval. The team had high confidence that we would get approved in a month or two.
However, we began to receive more and more questions from the IRB. We had to update protocols, look at certain scenarios and how to address them, and key members of our Israeli medical team had to move to the frontlines of the pandemic. They did not have the time to work on our study due to coronavirus.
I kept asking myself, “Is this ever going to happen?” Our entire existence is based on our work to help veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress. We continued with the mindset of controlling what we could control, which was growing the business and building up revenue for our research. Eventually, when the world returned to some semblance of normalcy, we would be ready to fund a study.
Then, in February of 2021, just one year after Helmand Valley Growers Company product hit the stores, we got the call. Our IRB was approved, and our medical cannabis experts from Israel were available. We also had American doctors working on research at the University of California at Irvine. Our time had come.
During this emotional journey, I have come to truly appreciate all the people who helped get us to where we are today. Our families have always been in our corner. I also appreciate George and Cody Sadler for taking a chance on three Marines. We also wouldn’t be where we are if it were not for the Veterans Action Council (VAC), a think tank that works on veterans’ issues and supports other veteran businesses. It also works on legislative issues with the end state of getting veterans the support they deserve. I now fully understand the term “It takes a village.”
In times of war, the military fights the battles, and the politicians make the peace. No one wants peace more than the men and women on the battlefield. It is a very delicate dance. You cannot make the peace until the conditions on the battlefield have been met. I want everyone who is reading this to know, we here at Helmand Valley Growers Company and Battle Brothers Foundation have the weight. As long as there is air in our lungs, we will take this as far as we can take it. We will set the conditions and then look to our political representatives to make the peace.
For us, we want the brave men and women who raised their right hand to serve their country to be able to live in peace. They deserve the American dream they fought so hard to defend.