When three former Marines started laying the groundwork for a veteran advocacy group, the connections between opioid use and suicide became readily apparent, prompting them to look for a way to make a bigger impact.
Bryan Buckley, Matt Curran and Andy Miears started Helmand Valley Growers Company in 2019 as a for-profit cannabis business that would donate 100% of its proceeds to Battle Brothers Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Buckley dedicated to researching medical cannabis treatments for veterans with ailments such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s essentially a call to arms for the cannabis community,” says Buckley, the CEO of HVGC and the president of Battle Brothers.
Miears, now the chief cultivator of HVGC, was the first in the group to champion cannabis, due to the positive effects it was having on his life. Cannabis helped Miears “transition from a warrior to a gardener,” Buckley says.
“Our mission is to provide an alternative to doctors and the health-care system, and that (alternative) is cannabis,” says Curran, the company’s chief operating officer, who acknowledges that cannabis can’t fix every problem, but is “a very effective tool that has marginal side effects when you look at it next to a prescription drug.”
Buckley, Curran and Miears have first-hand experience with the horrors of war. They served together in Afghanistan’s Helmand River Valley as Marine Raiders — a special operations force similar to Army Green Berets or Navy SEALS, “but better looking,” Curran says.
The team met with members of Congress to see what it would take for the Department of Veterans Affairs to start providing cannabis as an alternative medicine for veterans. Their answer: research from American doctors.
But the barriers to that research in the United States are immense and starting a cannabis company was an expensive solution.
“We initially entered into the industry looking to do cultivation first and realized that when the ones and zeros added up, we would be about $2.5 million into it before we would see our first crop return,” Curran says.
Luckily, the Battle Brothers nonprofit drew the attention of Platinum Vape’s REACT Foundation. George and Cody Sadler, the father-and-son owners of Platinum Vape, met with Buckley to discuss adding a Battle Brothers-themed cartridge to their REACT line, which, in turn, would send donations to the charity.
During the meeting, Buckley told the Sadlers about HVGC and its mission to self-fund cannabis research.
“When George and Cody heard the mission, they were like, ‘You have to be here. We have to help you do this,’” Curran says. “They opened their doors, took us under their wings, gave us a little spot down here in San Diego to work with them and their team at Platinum. They have really been our mentors and helped guide us on our way, get us on our feet and establish us as a brand.”
George Sadler says it’s part of Platinum’s corporate culture to “put their money where their mouth is.”
“This was a very tangible way to provide a pathway to actually see results of our efforts though this organization,” he says, adding that the HVGC team’s high level of commitment and strategy that sealed the deal.
“The energy and devotion to their ‘Battle Brothers’ was very apparent from our first meeting,” he says. “From then on, it has been a win-win on both sides.”
Through the partnership, HVGC raised more than $40,000 — enough to fund Battle Brothers’ first study, conducted by an Israeli research company examining the effects cannabis has on the PTSD symptoms of 60 veterans.
“This will be one of the first ones in this country,” Buckley says. “We’re doing this totally in-house with our products.”
Currently HVGC produces six varieties of vape cartridges: Afghanimal, Purple Trainwreck, Sour Diesel, Purple Kush and Super Lemon Haze, along with live resin, edibles and 1:1 tincture products.
“We talk to the veterans to see what they like and what’s working best for them,” Buckley says. “Really, it’s Business 101; we listen to what consumers want and we provide it for them.”