Raiders to Researchers: Starting A Medical Cannabis Company

 


Photo from the Helmand Valley Growers Company | Design by Matthew Iozia

Photo from the Helmand Valley Growers Company | Design by Matthew Iozia

Editor’s Note: This piece is Part 2 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.

Four years ago, my fellow veterans and I from the Battle Brothers Foundation decided that we would seek a study backed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to approve medical cannabis for the treatment of post-traumatic stress.

Read Part 1 of “Raiders to Researchers”

After meeting with Niamedic and Congress, I had a roadmap for an IRB study and developed our execution checklist. It was not as simple as submitting an application. On the academic front, I needed to design a sound study, and locate willing and knowledgeable American physicians. However, to accomplish any of this, I needed to raise funds to pay for the study. This appeared straight-forward; however, I quickly learned this would be one of my most difficult missions. 

 

The study would be funded through the Helmand Valley Growers Company (HVGC), a medical cannabis company I founded in 2017. The name HVGC has significant personal meaning behind it. The 1st Marine Raider Battalion I served in spent the majority of its time deployed to the Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The name, “HVGC,” pays homage to all U.S. servicemen and servicewomen who have served in Helmand Valley. All who were stationed in Helmand are all part of what we colloquially call the Helmand Valley Gun Club – and most of us sport our own “HVGC” tattoos.

 

To fund an IRB study, my team and I believed we needed a complete vertical integration plan. In other words, we would require three cannabis licenses: (1) A cultivation license, so we could grow cannabis; (2) a manufacturing license so that HVGC could manufacture cannabis products; and, (3) a distribution license so we could transport our products to dispensaries.  

 

To cultivate and process our own cannabis, we needed land, so we sought out a location in California City, California. Located in the “high desert,” California City is about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles and is the third-largest city in California by square mileage.  Established in the late 1950s, developers had hopes California City would rival Los Angeles; however, sandstorms, limited water, and other unfavorable environmental factors turned people off. Now, the city and its population of roughly 13,000 people, have become a hub for the cannabis industry.

 

After meeting with local leaders, they all appeared eager to accept us in their pro-veteran community. We worked with a legal and consulting team to develop our license applications, and after the onerous application process, we moved to the interview process. Soon after, we awarded its cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution licenses.  

 

I still remember the night after we were awarded our licenses. It finally felt that things were finally aligning as we needed.

 

But we still had to overcome one large hurdle: getting money. We just needed to raise capital to construct our vertically-integrated, veteran-owned cannabis company and begin medical cannabis research.  

 

With business plans and licenses in hand, HVGC hit the street to raise capital. We dropped thousands getting it to where it was, but we struggled to make the capital component come together. Almost everyone we met said that they loved our mission, our story, and our licenses but ultimately shied away from sponsoring us.  At the time, it felt like we hit a wall.  

 

As time went on, issues with California City began to develop, so we needed to pivot and find a new location to make our dream into a reality. Soon after, we set our eyes on Oceanside, California. Oceanside had just approved cannabis, and was next door to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and is surrounded by a strong veteran town.  We located an Oceanside property and we began the lengthy application process with the City of Oceanside. 

 

Then one phone call on Superbowl Sunday changed our focus and direction immediately. A friend of HVGC was helping us out and told one of his “fund managers” about us.  This individual demanded that I get on the phone with him right away. It was Superbowl Sunday and my Eagles were playing.

 

This man started the conversation this way: “Do you know what you have?” We responded with our normal elevator pitch about our background, our mission, and the talent that we had.

 

He agreed and said something that I will never forget.

 

“I know when you were running around Helmand Province and doing what had to be done, you never thought about what you were developing. You have a great brand. A type of brand people would pay marketing firms thousands of dollars to develop. The difference here is HVGC is real!”

 

He went on: HVGC is a brand that is mission-driven – a company with a soul.  Why spend millions on going vertically integrated right away. Having all the risks that come along with it? It did not take us much time to agree with him.  Not only did he prove it from a financial standpoint, but his successes in the business world could not be denied.  

 

We walked away from the Oceanside application process and began another avenue of approach. Instead of carving out space in the cannabis industry, then establish our own brand, we needed to do it another way around. Our brand was our way in.

 

Nothing went to plan, but we were able to adjust, adapt, and overcome.  Even when we were wondering how we could help raise funds for our research, a Paul Newman salad dressing bottle told us all that we needed:  100% of profits to charity.  Why not make all of our profits from HVGC products go directly into our veteran medical cannabis research?  Who else was doing something like that in the cannabis community?

 

 

So, we made one another pivot, and become a non-profit organization.  We would be able to pay for and create a study design on medical cannabis reducing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress with our veterans. The excitement was palpable. We had a verbal agreement and hands were shook. Nothing was going to stand in our way!

 

But then life happened again.

 

We were going to finalize our company on paper once our main investor returned from vacation with his family. However, time dragged out. We had not heard from him for days, then weeks.  When we finally heard from our investor, we received the news.  He was not able to make the deal due to unforeseen life circumstances – a horrible illness. 

 

This man was a mentor to all of us. He was self-made, had a tremendous athletic career, and like all of us, served in the United States Military. He was the type of person who wanted to get down in the dirt with his investments and be there every step of the way. He was not one to just give money and hope for good things.

 

We understood why he had to pull out, but still, we were heartbroken. Yet, we moved on and adapted. We knew we had something very special and need to accomplish our mission at all costs. To us, our work would save the lives of our American Heroes.  

 

HVGC once again found itself in the deep, dark water of despair that entrepreneurs know all too well. It was back to the drawing board. However, when one door closes, another opens. It was at this time that HVGC met George and Cody Sadler, the Founders of Platinum Vape.  Little did HVGC know that these two men would change our lives and the lives of veterans forever…

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