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Ep. 390: Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep. 390: Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA

Ep. 390: Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA

Paul Rieckhoff joins us and shares the potential for the Cannabis industry to be a massive job opportunity for veterans: “Think about the economic impact here, and think about the economic impact for veterans. Because veterans are four times more likely to be small business owners, they’re extremely entrepreneurial, and we think this is going to be the green revolution, the green industry is going to be a source of jobs.”

Transcript:

Speaker 1: Paul Rieckhoff joins us, welcome to Cannabis Economy. Download episodes on canneconomy.com, that's two Ns and the word economy, or wherever you currently get your podcasts. First, a word from MedMen, and then Paul Rieckhoff.
MedMen continues to expand its footprint on the cannabis landscape, opening new stores in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and the iconic 5th Avenue in Manhattan. They've also opened a 45000 foot high tech cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in Nevada. The company has reached a one billion dollar valuation, making it the country's first cannabis unicorn, and it's just the beginning. Learn how MedMen is building the future of cannabis today at medmen.com.

Paul Rieckhoff: But yeah, no more free interviews. That's the thing. You're working your tail off, right? You talk to somebody like me, I got microphones. Usually it's with cameras. And what do you get paid? Not much.

Speaker 1: Yeah, well first of all, thank you for coming in.

Paul Rieckhoff: Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1: Good to see you, thank you for coming all the way from the distant land of Yonkers, which I have a huge affinity for, growing up in [inaudible 00:01:06]. Yonkers is like reborn, man. Yeah, rebirth.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, which is cool. But yeah man, we were just saying about media. I've been doing a lot of media interviews over the last 14 years, and when I go back to [inaudible 00:01:19] just outside of Yonkers, people are like, "Oh man, you must be rich. You're on TV all the time." And I say, "Shit, I don't get paid for any of those interviews. I'm out there advocating for the cause. I'm lucky if I get an Uber back home.

Speaker 1: You got paid more in the service than out of the service, you know what I mean? And you don't get paid a lot in the service.

Paul Rieckhoff: And overseas it's tax free, which is yeah, when you're deployed that's a big secret. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But nevertheless, this is, it's great to have you here man, the timing's perfect. We got a lot of momentum, and we're finishing up a huge year on cannabis on all our advocacy issues, but it's really good timing to have you down here to talk now.

Speaker 1: Let's dive in on that. Let's talk about what we did, and by we I mean you, in 2018 and how that leads into 2019. Because I saw you right at basically the beginning, 2018 on we just passing each other on the hill, and you had a nice printout for me, right?

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, yeah. IAB has been around for 14 years now. Iraq and Afghanistan, [inaudible 00:02:20] in America, we founded it in my studio apartment in the lower east side with a MySpace page and some pissed off vets who wanted to make change. Fast forward 14 years later, we've got about 400000 members around the globe. They're all post 911 vets, so men and women who served since 9/11. There's about three million overall in our community, so this is the next generation of vets, and for 14 years we've been asking them what are the issues you care about?
And really four or five years ago, we started to see cannabis really emerge. I think what was most interesting was, it cut across partisan lines. There was no partisan affiliation, there was no geographic affiliation. Our community is I think post partisan. They want to get shit done. And they don't care who does it now. And the break down is, the highest percentage of our members are republicans, and then democrats, and then we have a huge percentage of libertarians, and a lot of people who are unaffiliated and independent, so I think they look at issues, not really parties. And what we saw over time was on medicinal, they were in support of medicinal years ago by over 80 percent. And recreational been really accelerating I think even ahead of where the public is.

Speaker 1: Paul Rieckhoff joins us, welcome to Cannabis Economy. Download episodes on canneconomy.com, that's two Ns and the word economy, or wherever you currently get your podcasts. First, a word from MedMen, and then Paul Rieckhoff.
MedMen continues to expand its footprint on the cannabis landscape, opening new stores in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and the iconic 5th Avenue in Manhattan. They've also opened a 45000 foot high tech cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in Nevada. The company has reached a one billion dollar valuation, making it the country's first cannabis unicorn, and it's just the beginning. Learn how MedMen is building the future of cannabis today at medmen.com.

Paul Rieckhoff: But yeah, no more free interviews. That's the thing. You're working your tail off, right? You talk to somebody like me, I got microphones. Usually it's with cameras. And what do you get paid? Not much.

Speaker 1: Yeah, well first of all, thank you for coming in.

Paul Rieckhoff: Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1: Good to see you, thank you for coming all the way from the distant land of Yonkers, which I have a huge affinity for, growing up in [inaudible 00:01:06]. Yonkers is like reborn, man. Yeah, rebirth.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, which is cool. But yeah man, we were just saying about media. I've been doing a lot of media interviews over the last 14 years, and when I go back to [inaudible 00:01:19] just outside of Yonkers, people are like, "Oh man, you must be rich. You're on TV all the time." And I say, "Shit, I don't get paid for any of those interviews. I'm out there advocating for the cause. I'm lucky if I get an Uber back home.

Speaker 1: You got paid more in the service than out of the service, you know what I mean? And you don't get paid a lot in the service.

Paul Rieckhoff: And overseas it's tax free, which is yeah, when you're deployed that's a big secret. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But nevertheless, this is, it's great to have you here man, the timing's perfect. We got a lot of momentum, and we're finishing up a huge year on cannabis on all our advocacy issues, but it's really good timing to have you down here to talk now.

Speaker 1: Let's dive in on that. Let's talk about what we did, and by we I mean you, in 2018 and how that leads into 2019. Because I saw you right at basically the beginning, 2018 on we just passing each other on the hill, and you had a nice printout for me, right?

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, yeah. IAB has been around for 14 years now. Iraq and Afghanistan, [inaudible 00:02:20] in America, we founded it in my studio apartment in the lower east side with a MySpace page and some pissed off vets who wanted to make change. Fast forward 14 years later, we've got about 400000 members around the globe. They're all post 911 vets, so men and women who served since 9/11. There's about three million overall in our community, so this is the next generation of vets, and for 14 years we've been asking them what are the issues you care about?
And really four or five years ago, we started to see cannabis really emerge. I think what was most interesting was, it cut across partisan lines. There was no partisan affiliation, there was no geographic affiliation. Our community is I think post partisan. They want to get shit done. And they don't care who does it now. And the break down is, the highest percentage of our members are republicans, and then democrats, and then we have a huge percentage of libertarians, and a lot of people who are unaffiliated and independent, so I think they look at issues, not really parties. And what we saw over time was on medicinal, they were in support of medicinal years ago by over 80 percent. And recreational been really accelerating I think even ahead of where the public is.
And on a very practical level. Our community is filled with people who have been wounded, who have been injured, who need pain relief, who need innovative medical help, and I think on a very basic level, these are men and women who have been trusted with billion dollar weapons systems, tanks, laser guided missiles, but you don't trust us with cannabis? It's kind of asinine, right?

Speaker 1: That's perfectly put. You've obviously thought about this.

Paul Rieckhoff: It's true. And it came from our members. They're saying this is bullshit. And I think we're also, veterans are also we think a conscience for America. We really focus on values, we're not looking at political wins. We really do care about our country, we're pissed off about some of the problems and we want to be apart of the solution. And I think we always that say that veterans are not a charity, they're an investment. And we look for other investment opportunities, and we see emerging solutions. And we see this over the years on basic things like traumatic brain injury screening. Or let me give you another example: equine therapy. Years ago, our members said, "You know what? Horses help. Horses can heal me in some ways better than medication can."
Or a really good one is service dogs. Veterans have really been leading the national conversation on service dogs because they view them as effective. And they're cheaper for the tax payer, and veterans see them as working, it works, right? If it works, they're gonna support it, and politics shouldn't get in the way. I think that's what we've seen with cannabis and discussions around cannabis in general over the last couple years, is they want to see common sense change. And right now in some states if you're a vet, and you have legal, medical cannabis in your state, you cannot talk to the VA about it, because the VA is a federal agency. So the fact that it is classified the way it is right now, actually impacts veterans health. Right?
If you can't talk to your doctor openly about it, or your doctor doesn't have the training or awareness or option, it's kind of a line in the sand, and it becomes really tricky. And I think at the end of the day, it makes supporting and treating vets harder, it makes the job of the employees at the VA harder, and it's just unnecessary.

Speaker 1: Break it down for us, for those of us who are not veterans, and I keep saying it's better for everybody that I was not in the service. I'm not one of the...

Paul Rieckhoff: You would have done fine.

Speaker 1: I'm not a good pick as far as that type of thing.

Paul Rieckhoff: You saw a [crosstalk 00:05:40]

Speaker 1: I could've even done that. That I could've done, that's right. That's exactly it.

Paul Rieckhoff: There's a place for everybody, man. The Army's a big organization.

Speaker 1: But when you say I can't access medical cannabis because I've gotta go to this federal institution, just dumb it down for us, it seems obvious, it's federally illegally, but why can't I as a veteran get my doctor?

Paul Rieckhoff: On a very basic level, if medicinal cannabis is not an option in your state, you could have your leg blown off and a doctor can't help you, right? They can give you shit loads of opioids, they can put you on a mountain of pills, but if medical cannabis is not an option for you in that state, then you're [inaudible 00:06:19] out. And what we saw, there's kind of what we call a green migration that happened over the last 10 years, especially among severely wounded guys and gals that I know a lot of, right?
We saw a lot of them going to Oregon. We saw a lot of them going to states that did legalize, because they said, "You know what? On a very basic level pain is an issue," and I'm talking about people who have polytrauma. Multiple amputations, severe reconstructive issues, right? That was one issue. But then we also have a lot of members who believe it can help them with the symptoms of mental health issues. Post traumatic stress disorder and the gamut. Now there's not a lot of great research there, and that's part of what we want to focus on, is finding out how much, if at all, cannabis can help with PTSD. There's been some promising research, but we need research. And especially if you're gonna make a case to the department of defense to the VA, it needs to be grounded in research, and there's been a shockingly small amount of research focused on veterans and cannabis. So we need that as a first step.

Speaker 1: Couple things there, as far as that first point that even if my state has medical cannabis, and I go to my VA doctor for medical cannabis, I can't get the medical cannabis that's even legal in my state, can I?

Paul Rieckhoff: Correct, from the VA facility. Now I believe now you're able to discuss it with your health care provider.

Speaker 1: You can talk about it.

Paul Rieckhoff: But until recently, that was a problem too. And we heard from a lot of folks in the VA who felt like they were standing behind a glass and unable to talk about this. I mean, there are other regulations, like whether you can carry it on federal property, right? A VA facility is federal property, and your local VA is federally run, federally owned, it comes out of a totally different budget. So state laws don't always apply in the same way. So I think we actually saw a similar problem around gay rights. When we saw states permitting and supporting gay marriage, but the federal government wasn't, so what happens if you're a vet and you're same sex service member, and you're wounded in action, and your spouse can't come visit you in the hospital, right?
That's where the real insanity of some of these policies kick in, so that was instructive as we started to lead this discussion. And to answer your question, at the beginning of the year we launched a campaign called Cannabis for Vets. It's pretty straightforward, the hashtag's cannabisforvets, and we believe that veterans should have access to cannabis, it's pretty straightforward.
We also think there's obviously a national discussion, and veterans can lead that, but it started with a basic level of awareness, how our members feel, and as I talked over 80% of our members have supported this. Laying out policy solutions, talking about what we need access to and what we need to change, and on a very basic level, a piece of legislation that would mandate the VA research the impacts of cannabis on PTSD.
This would be the first piece of cannabis legislation ever at the VA. So, it's a step. It's not a massive step, but it's an important first step in getting some level of acceptance from the second largest agency in the federal government. So it's a pathway toward understanding at the department of defense, within the federal government more broadly, and toward mainstream America, helping them understand that this a really important way to understand this issue.

Speaker 1: If I'm listening and I want to support that by calling my representative, my local if you will federally elected official, what bill should I tell them to vote in favor of?

Paul Rieckhoff: First of all, go to iava.org/cannabis. You can find out the facts, we've got some really powerful, creative material there, PDFs and videos you can share to just educate people about this issue. And then the legislation that we've been pushing on is really key, so it's the VA medicinal cannabis research act, right?

Speaker 1: So that's Hawaii and Florida, right?

Paul Rieckhoff: Hawaii and Florida?

Speaker 1: Those are sponsors of the bill, right?

Paul Rieckhoff: Oh no, actually I'll give you the whole list. We believe in accountability, right? And to use a line out of the old westerns, we'll make you famous. We'll make you famous because you're good on vets issues, we'll make you famous because you're bad on vets issues. It's your choice, cowboy.

Speaker 1: Choose a lane, yeah exactly.

Paul Rieckhoff: So on the Senate side, it's 27/96, and right now as of today, we only have seven sponsors on the Senate side. They're republicans and democrats, and if it's cool with you, I'll just list them, right?

Speaker 1: Sure, why not.

Paul Rieckhoff: John Tester from Montana, Dan Sullivan from Alaska, Joe Donnelly from Indiana, Angus King from Maine, Chris VanHolland from Maryland, Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, and Kirsten Gillibrand from New York. So that means if you didn't hear your senator's name, they're not on it. And they need to get on it. And you can call them up right now and say, "Hey, before you leave for the end of the year in Washington, get on this common sense piece of veteran's legislation." The House side...

Speaker 1: Too many to list.

Paul Rieckhoff: Too many to list, but it's HR5520. We've got, I think about 59 co-sponsors as of today, republicans and democrats. This really has become a bipartisan issue. I think that's changed a lot in the last year. You've heard people like Speaker Behner, former Speaker Behner's come out on this issue, that's helped move people.

Speaker 1: Well, it helps when dollars go in his pocket.

Paul Rieckhoff: That's it too. We also make this argument too, that look, if for some reason you don't get this and it's not cracking into your skull, think about the economic impact here, and think about the economic impact for veterans. Because veterans are four times more likely to be small business owners, they're extremely entrepreneurial, and we think this is gonna be the green revolution, the green industry is gonna be a source of jobs. And veterans need jobs, and they can really knock this out of the park in the same way they have other start up industries.

Speaker 1: If you go back through, and it's more the earlier episodes, the true entrepreneurs. Not the folks that are bringing other business experience into cannabis now. But the folks that started up their companies, far and away the highest percentage is veterans. It was remarkable at how many veterans. I would speak, every other interview is a veteran. Because they have a high risk tolerance, right? They are interested in solving an issue, and they don't mind a challenge.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, they're hard wired to be entrepreneurs. And that's been true since the beginning of America, right? George Washington was really the founder of the American's veteran movement, right? He came home and said I don't wanna be king, I want to continue to serve in other ways, and he was a soldier who became an active citizen. That's been true all the way through from John F. Kennedy to George Bush who just passed away. Part of the greatest generation? And every generation comes home, because when you're in a really tough situation, you've got limited resources and high pressure. It's like figure that shit out.
Okay, you're on a remote outpost in Afghanistan, you have limited equipment, you got the enemy coming at you, you gotta figure your shit out. You have to figure shit out. And that makes you survive, and then when you come home you take that same attitude to a new business, and you can get things done. And we've seen that in the solar industry, we saw it in car innovation, you see it in medical innovation. There's a really great line that says, "The only great victor in war is medicine." Right? Because innovation has to happen for people to survive, and we've seen that and veterans are leading it. So whether it's stopping blood flow in a trauma situation or traumatic brain injury or cannabis, we think that veterans and war related health care innovations are gonna translate into benefits for everybody.

Speaker 1: When you see the... You're used to dealing with, what?

Paul Rieckhoff: Dummies?

Speaker 1: Sure.

Paul Rieckhoff: If you work in Washington? Yes. Sorry.

Speaker 1: How frustrating is this point or any point as far as, "Listen, you sent us." Let's kind of broaden it away from cannabis. I'm sure you've dealt with this question once or twice. We sent you guys away. You get hurt. You come back. And you gotta deal with problems. And it's like, I can't think of another group of people, just fix it. Just do the thing. Whatever the wait time is, just see the people. Let's bring in private industry and tell them that the serve the public good now and they just have to see these veterans, and that's that. How is it possible that this is an issue?

Paul Rieckhoff: Well, because they don't give a shit enough or they haven't been forced to give a shit enough, and that's where we come in. So advocacy groups like IAVA are key in forcing, especially political leaders to move, right? And it's pressure. That's what makes people move whether it's putting them on the news and making them famous, or calling them out in your podcast, that's how you move them. There's a line I've used a lot in the past couple years about the political power of veterans. Babies, puppies, and vets. In politics, there's three groups of people that you don't wanna cross, right?

Speaker 1: That's it.

Paul Rieckhoff: You don't wanna screw up with babies, puppies, and vets. If you do, it's gonna be really hard for a political campaign to succeed, but you also see a lot of lip service, right?

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Paul Rieckhoff: If something happens that impacts kids, you see an immediate reaction that's very visceral, it's very different. And veterans are this revered class within our society, especially now, and in some ways it's not healthy, right? Because it's hero worship. But people feel like our veterans have done a lot, and they deserve to be heard and supported. So when they have a problem at the VA, which is something that happening right now. For example-

Speaker 1: But it's been happening for 20 years. As long as I know, there's been a problem with the VA. And I know people are working hard within that organization, but it's like how is this-

Paul Rieckhoff: There's a bigger philosophical conversation about how I think the public generally is disconnected from our military in a way they never have been before. What's dramatically different from George Washington or Kennedy or Bush's time is that now you've got less than one half of one percent of the population that's serving. In World War II, it was 12%. So in World War II, we were 12% of the population, now we're less than one half of one percent. We're the opposite of the Hispanic voting block in America, right? Our demographics-

Speaker 1: In direction.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, we're going in the other direction. Our population is shrinking. Millions of World War II vets have passed and they're almost all gonna be gone in the next few years, and the Vietnam vets are gonna quickly go behind them, so we're gonna go from over 20 million people in America to about 10 million people quickly. So our population's gonna drop in half. There's really no precedent for that in terms of political power, so what it means is that we have to be smarter, we have to be more innovative, and we've also gotta have allies. In the same way I use the gay rights movement and equality as a good example, the allies are key, right?
And we need folks who are not vets who just care about our community and see the value for all Americans in getting behind stuff like this, and forcing the politicians to respond. This shows you how stupid a policy is, right? Whatever the policy is. If you're looking at it, if you wanna see how really stupid it is, think about how it impacts somebody who is currently deployed in Afghanistan. So a dude's over there driving a tank. And he's been deployed nine times, okay? And his family's far behind, and he comes home and they tell him, "Sorry dude, you can't have medical cannabis."
That's ridiculous. It's the apex of insanity, right? But if we could help move stuff, which I think we uniquely can, then we'll take it. This year especially, we've moved this needle a lot. Press coverage has been better, grass roots support is there. We still need fundraising support, so folks who are listening, every dollar you donate's gonna help us move this forward. We're a small non profit, so go to iava.org, especially around holiday times and support the cannabis campaign. We wanna get this done.

Speaker 1: I want to attach to that call for donations in the holiday time frame, and a happy winter solstice to you.

Paul Rieckhoff: Thank you sir. Back at you.

Speaker 1: Thanks. What is the number? Is the number 22?

Paul Rieckhoff: Suicide?

Speaker 1: Yes, sir.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, so the question you're asking me is how many vets are we losing every day to suicide?

Speaker 1: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Paul Rieckhoff: The best, most latest VA numbers say 20 a day. So 20 a day roughly. It's an estimate is how many people, men and women of all generations we're losing every day to suicide. So that's an epidemic. If we're losing 20 people to anything else in America, it would probably be getting a lot more attention. Rachel Maddow is a friend of mine, and someone we've talked to about issues over the years, and she drew a really great parallel. She said, "We haven't lost this many young Americans at this kind of a rate since the AIDS crisis." Young people who are dying frequently in huge numbers, and the community feels like nobody's paying attention.
So that's what we feel like, right? AIDS is very different, but folks in the early days especially in the AIDS crisis felt like their friends were dying all around them and nobody was paying attention. And just yesterday on Twitter, another guy hits me up and says we lost another veteran last night. We hear them all the time. We get about half a dozen vets in crisis who come to our crisis management team every week. So there's a real need out there. Right? And if cannabis can help save one person, then what the hell are waiting for?

Speaker 1: We need more research, that's where we started this interview. I will now continue that conversation with an anecdote, because all we have is anecdotal. I was at the department of health, they had a hearing. This was before they had PTSD on the list of qualifying conditions for cannabis, and a veteran got up with his daughter of four years, she was a four year old. And she sat down next to him, and he's sitting there in his suit and jacket, and explained to the council that he would not be able to be sitting here if it weren't for cannabis. He was not able to leave the house. He was not able to be a father in the way that he needed to be a father to his daughter without cannabis.
So I heard a veteran say that under oath to the department of health. So if it's simply anecdotal, I don't understand-

Paul Rieckhoff: It's not simply anecdotal, and that's where if you go to iava.org/survey, we've been asking our members how they feel about this. And now we've got the data that shows that they personally have been impacted, again, over 80% of our members and rising.

Speaker 1: Scientists would call that anecdotal.

Paul Rieckhoff: Actually, it's good data because we survey close to 5000 verified post 9/11 veterans, so it's four times a Zagat's survey [crosstalk 00:20:11] so it's not perfect, but it's a pretty statistically relevant piece of information, right?

Speaker 1: Indeed, indeed.

Paul Rieckhoff: And personally they've also said that almost two thirds of them have a friend who has attempted suicide. We've got lots of other data too about their barriers to entry, and I think the real question you gotta ask is what's the worse that can happen? So you give that well decorated, silver star recipient who lost both legs access to cannabis. What the hell's gonna happen? He's not gonna shoot up a school, right? What is gonna happen? Maybe it does help his family. Maybe it does help his child. Maybe it does give him a new future, and that's where we have to recognize the severity of the issues our community is facing. And again, we don't now if it's gonna help with the opiod crisis. That's where we need more research as well.
It looks like there may be promise there. But that's another issue we want to dig into, because veterans are also uniquely impacted by opioids. Especially folks who have had extreme injuries and are being over medicated by the VA and other places. So if this can open up their life and give them a chance, who wants to be the politician to get in the way of that? We're gonna find out in the next year. You want to stand up and block that, we're gonna push you. We're gonna put pressure on you, we're gonna say your name, and we're gonna make you famous.

Speaker 1: Well the Senate voted 95 to five and then just because of the rules committee, it was representative Pete Sessions also no longer going to be there next year who stopped the vote.

Paul Rieckhoff: And that's the key too. Sessions was stopping this in the VA as well.

Speaker 1: Pete Sessions.

Paul Rieckhoff: Right, yeah. So Sessions was stopping this at the VA. The White House was stopping this. There was this ban on cannabis policy-

Speaker 1: You're saying AG Sessions, right?

Paul Rieckhoff: Both Sessions, right?

Speaker 1: And they're both gone.

Paul Rieckhoff: They're both gone. But they have been stopping this from a political standpoint or whatever their motivation is. But, people within the VA think this makes sense. The community thinks this makes sense. Congress thinks this makes sense. It's stopping at the White House. And so that's where we want to put pressure as well. If Bush wants to... Sorry Bush. If Trump... Sorry, there's been a lot of Bush this week, right?

Speaker 1: That's true, if that's fair.

Paul Rieckhoff: If Trump wants to be the common sense business guy, this seems like a no brainer.

Speaker 1: Absolutely.

Paul Rieckhoff: And so we're gonna keep the pressure up. We're also gonna focus on suicide, on support for women veterans, on reforming the VA. There's another issue that's emerging for us that we call burn pits, which is toxin exposure. Which is a parallel in some ways, because we don't know what the long term effects will be, but it looks like cancers. And so again, as many as two thirds of our members feel that they were exposed to these burn pits. Burn pits are basically where you take medical waste, military garbage, you put it all in a pile, and you set it on fire. Because when you're deployed overseas, you don't have incinerators. And you don't want the enemy to find this stuff, so they would just create these big burn piles. And vets would stand around them for sometimes days, weeks, or years and breathe it in.
It's a lot like the exposures down at Ground Zero after 9/11, right? You just breathe in all this shit for a long time, you might get cancer. So over the next couple of years we find out that burn pits are like Agent Orange was to the Vietnam generation where so many vets had different forms of cancers and birth defects and everything else, then we're gonna need every tool in the arsenal, and we're gonna need cannabis. Right? If these people are dealing with cancer, that's pretty straightforward at this point, the benefits that it can offer people who are suffering with cancer. So that's a long term issue that we also see as linked to this campaign.

Speaker 1: I just want to give [inaudible 00:23:23] because you did bring up reforming the VA, right? And I brought that up as a how the heck is this going on? What's the three point, five point plan that is obviously very difficult to accomplish? But what ideas do we have to maybe fix this?

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, I think we have a big six and I've walked through all of them, and if folks are listening, you can go to iava.org/bigsix. Reforming the VA, it works for many people, but it doesn't work for everyone, and almost every three or four months for the last 15 years you've probably seen a story on cable news about the VA screwing up.

Speaker 1: 100%.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, this month it's been that they're not paying GI bill checks on time. We need a total cultural transformation, we need a VA secretary who's focused. We need a president who gives a shit. We need increased funding, we need increased modernization. We also need the VA to be more welcoming and supportive of women. That's a huge issue for us, because 20% or so of our members are female, which is much different than the VFW, the American Legion, the older generations. One of the things we want to do is change the VA motto. Right now, there's an antiquated motto that's a quote from Abraham Lincoln, that the VA stands for "He who have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan," right?
You notice that there's no she in there. There's no they in there, right? It's a gender specific motto that basically every woman who walks in the VA sees and says you're not welcome here. So no Fortune 500 company could have a motto like that.

Speaker 1: Not anymore.

Paul Rieckhoff: It just wouldn't be acceptable, right?

Speaker 1: Nope.

Paul Rieckhoff: But the VA still has it. So we want to change that motto to be more inclusive, that will show women that the VA is a place that cares about them, that does support them. Those are some of the changes. Again, go to our website, there's a lot more detail. But VA reform is probably the hardest part of this. Every president says they're gonna go to DC and fix the VA. It's kind of like saying, "I'm gonna clean up Washington." It's like the ultimate throwaway line, and it's the one every president chokes on. Especially the last three presidents, Obama and Bush all said they were gonna fix the VA, and they had massive problems, and it looks like Trump is continuing that bad trend too.

Speaker 1: Again, that's a post partisan thing right there.

Paul Rieckhoff: Well the VA is also where, from a political standpoint, it really tests your chops. You want to make government work, you want to show you can fix shit. Here's the VA, right?

Speaker 1: Right, like enjoy that.

Paul Rieckhoff: It's the toughest challenge.

Speaker 1: What if there was a crazy person that said, "Hey Paul, do you wanna head that up?"

Paul Rieckhoff: The VA?

Speaker 1: Oh sure.

Paul Rieckhoff: No, thank you.

Speaker 1: Why not?

Paul Rieckhoff: I'm not the best person for it, frankly.

Speaker 1: Because why?

Paul Rieckhoff: Because I don't think I know the VA well enough. Right? I will tell you that frankly. Bob McDonald was the VA secretary, let's go back now, oh a whole year a half ago which was four people ago. Okay right now, let me paint this picture. You got Secretary Wilke right now who replaced the nominee Ronnie Jackson, remember that shitshow?

Speaker 1: I do remember that, yes.

Paul Rieckhoff: Right, Ronnie Jackson, the president's personal doctor imploded. And then before that, you had David Shulkin who was there for a little over a year. Before him, at the end of the Obama administration and we recommended Trump keep him on, but he didn't a guy named Bob McDonald was the VA secretary. He was the CEO of Procter and Gamble. And he's a West Point guy, but he said, "You know what? At Procter and Gamble, I worked my way up." Procter and Gamble's a pretty difficult machine. It's a complicated business, and he had worked for decades internally to be able to learn that and run it. You can't just air drop a rando on top of the VA and say, "Here you go, man. Run it."
And I think could I bring some energy to it? Could I bring some accountability? Maybe. But I think I'm more powerful on the outside. I need to be holding the VA secretary accountable. I hope the person they bring in in the next round is a young veteran. I think we need a man or a woman, right? There's never been a woman to head the VA that understands next generation medical care, that understands technology, and that can really be an advocate. I look at somebody like Arnie Duncan in the Obama administration. Arnie Duncan would be at the NBA Allstar game. He'd be everywhere advocating for students. Advocating for the department of education, right? We need someone like that who can be a champion for veterans. Not just for the VA, but for veterans in general.
So God forbid if there's a bad shooting, right? Someone can come out and educate people and say, "Look, not all vets are homicidal maniacs. Here are the statistics. Here's what they really need." We don't have that person right now. And I think that's a problem, but I think all that is to say that I've also had enough of DC. I don't like wearing a tie. I'm into Cannabis. So I think I'm disqualified on a number of levels, right?

Speaker 1: Well let's go back, let's just quickly do this whole thing, right? [inaudible 00:27:49] when was military service, is that in your family?

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, so my dad grew up in the Bronx, Troutman Avenue in the Bronx, and he was drafted in 1967 to serve in Vietnam. He ended up going to Europe and other places, but he got drafted a generation before my grandfather lived in the same neighborhood and he got drafted and got sent to the South Pacific for three years during World War II. I didn't get drafted, but I felt like I needed to do my part. I was lucky I played football in college and got a good education, and when I got done, I really felt like I had to do my part. I wanted to give something back to this country that had given me so much and I enlisted in 1998, and then my first active duty deployment if you will was being at Ground Zero as a first responder the week of 9/11. Not where I ever thought I would be deployed, right? Especially growing up in the New York area, but that was kind of what started me on this activation period for Iraq and then came home and started this, so.
Yeah, going back to that part of the country you see in places like Yonkers and [inaudible 00:28:49], you see what's going on with this cannabis discussion. You see where cops are wrestling with it, teachers are wrestling with it, and there's still a degree of having it in the shadows, and we need to be able to open this conversation up and really realize the potential that I think we all see. And that's where I'm kind of motivated to do, I feel like in the last year this has become a freight train. I've seen this before with policy stuff. Everybody opposes it until it becomes popular, then they all said they were there all along.

Speaker 1: Sure, yeah.

Paul Rieckhoff: You're gonna be able to remember those seven Senators that were on before this became popular, right? The ones who came on your show before it was acceptable.

Speaker 1: That was congressman, we're still working on senators, but yeah.

Paul Rieckhoff: But who's gonna be the first Senator? We're calling you out.

Speaker 1: That's it.

Paul Rieckhoff: Cory Booker hasn't come on your show?

Speaker 1: We'll see.

Paul Rieckhoff: Okay, all right. Well Gillibrand should at least be there.

Speaker 1: We'll also see on that one. Those are two specific ones, yes.

Paul Rieckhoff: Gillibrand's a good example. We're here in New York, you live in New York. She's been a good advocate on medical cannabis for vets. Maybe we'll give her a call. Put her on the spot, tell her to come on the show.

Speaker 1: Indeed, we'll see how that goes. All right, so you mentioned 9/11, I can't let that go by as a New Yorker. You're a New Yorker, you were literally there at Ground Zero when we needed you there. What can you share? There are many anecdotes on this show over the years? What can you share about your experience?

Paul Rieckhoff: I wrote about it in my book pretty extensively.

Speaker 1: Oh, well let's say the name of the book.

Paul Rieckhoff: The book's called Chasing Ghosts. It's old, it was out in 2006.

Speaker 1: You can still buy it though, right?

Paul Rieckhoff: I think, maybe. I don't know if you can buy it. It's like two dollars on Amazon somewhere.

Speaker 1: Give it somebody.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah. But, nevertheless, I wrote about this in my book because I needed to process it. And now that it's this many years later, I think the thing that I take away is number one, everybody has a 9/11 story. I think that's what really fascinating about 9/11, it's become our Pearl Harbor or where were you when Kennedy was shot? You ask anybody who was alive, "Where were you?" It really is a dinner conversation at my house. Because people think it's gonna be morbid, but sometimes people met their husband or wife that day, kids were born, it's such a seminal event in our understanding, especially what it means to be an American. So that's number one, is my story is unique in some respect, but so is everybody's.
I think the second piece is look, I was there that night and for some time afterward. The thing that people don't realize is that the real heroism that was there, and the love. There was a total selflessness down there. We're a couple blocks away right now, right? People can't see this, but we're blocks away from the Vietnam Memorial down in financial district of New York City. A little bit to our south is every war memorial in New York City basically, and then Ground Zero and the memorial are a couple blocks to our north, so we're kind of in a really interesting, that's where the IAV headquarters are at this really interesting epicenter.
Even France's tavern is next door, which is George Washington's drinking spot.

Speaker 1: There we go. I ate Thanksgiving there one day because of that.

Paul Rieckhoff: You gotta go there, man. But the point is, that now coming full circle understanding that that time was a time of generosity, a time of love, and a time from my view the very best of what this country can be. We were on what they call the bucket brigade or the bucket lines so we were trying to pull people out and just see what the hell was there. And yet, every generation, every ethnic background, every political... People just getting along working together and showing love. I smoked cigarettes back then, I didn't pay for cigarettes for two weeks. Every time I walked in, somebody saw me in uniform, it was like, "Here, have a pack of smokes." If you want to know how much love was in the air, New Yorkers were actually giving out free cigarettes, right? And they cost like 20 bucks a pack or whatever it was in Manhattan, so that was like-

Speaker 1: That's a big deal.

Paul Rieckhoff: That's a big deal, man. But I think that heroism and that love, and what I always need an opportunity to tell people is a lot of people got their health pretty badly fucked up after that. I was down there, I go get tested every year. My father was down there, he gets tested every year, but there were a lot of folks who we've already lost to 9/11 health impacts, and they're gonna be more. And we can't forget that that's really gonna be key and that's gonna be a lifelong commitment that we have to make to those people and to their kids.

Speaker 1: Babies, pups, and vets are the big three so to speak, and when you share your anecdote about 9/11, whenever I think about it, you just mentioned it. The country, the world came together. Everybody was on the same page with the exception of maybe a few people obviously. But everybody was together. How do we return to that at least type of thinking? That type of feeling, without another traumatic event?

Paul Rieckhoff: Honestly, I don't know that we ever can. Because I didn't know we were gonna finish with that. We had the whole world behind us, and then we fucked it up. Right? And I think Bush fucked it up. He was our quarterback, he had the ball in his hands, we all looked to him and said, "All right, dude. What's the play we're calling?" And he said the people who knocked these buildings down are gonna hear us, everybody remembers that conversation on the pile, and then we invaded Afghanistan. And then we made a wrong turn, right? And we went from being ... I remember one point I was in South America before I got deployed, I went down there for a little while to get away from all this.
And I was in Argentina of all places. And I'm in a cab telling this driver to take me somewhere, and my really bad Spanish and he asked me where I'm from, I said New York. He stops the car, he turns around, he pulls over and he's in tears. And he says, "I'm so sorry." He said, "I'm sorry what happened to your city." He said, "We love New York, we're sorry for your city." And that reaction was so strong post 9/11, pre Iraq invasion. Right? And so, to answer your question, leadership in my view is really what can change that, but there also has to be a historic opportunity, a moment in time, and I don't know if we'll ever have that again.
I pray that we don't on some levels, but at the same time I think there's always an opportunity for the president, for a select group of other unique leaders who really can drive a national conversation to ask what it means to sacrifice, to ask what it means to be together. Do we need a direct attack to rally our country? I hope that we don't, because we're apparently getting one from Russia every day, but I think ultimately, I'm a military guy, I think it comes down to leadership, and strong leadership can solve a lot of problems. And bad leadership can create a lot of them.

Speaker 1: It sounds like what you're saying is that we took the wrong turn into Iraq, and if I heard you correctly, you went from 9/11 essentially to South America and then to Iraq. So you were the-

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, stopped a couple places in between.

Speaker 1: Fair enough, but you're the boots on the ground in that bad decision essentially. So how do you reckon with that as you're doing what-

Paul Rieckhoff: I think, look I got activated after 9/11 to be at Ground Zero, and then I volunteered to go to Afghanistan. I didn't go to Afghanistan, got sent to Germany to train, volunteered for the invasion of Iraq, but at I wrote in my journal at the time, there was this conversation about weapons of mass destruction, and I wrote in my journal George Bush had better be fucking right. There better be a threat there, because if not the long term detrimental effect on our national and international standing would be irreversible. And that's unfortunately been the case, right? I think a lot of us weren't sold on Iraq, didn't believe it was the right decision, but we had a job to do, and when it comes down to it, you wanna do your job. You wanna take care of the people next to you, you wanna try to minimize damage.
Everybody always asks us how many people we killed, nobody ever asks you how many people you saved. And I like to think that because I was a strong platoon leader and I had good guys in my unit, that we didn't kill a lot of people that might've died otherwise. And that for me, is something I know my guys are proud of, and we got them all home alive, which is a lot of luck but also something to be proud of. And at the end of the day, I think that's why I get so excited about this generation of veterans, because I think they can be selfless. I think they can do things that are bigger than themselves. And I think this country really needs them right now. There's no silver bullets out there, and our problems are pretty big, but we think vets can be a huge part of the solution.
And look, we're gonna lead the charge on cannabis. We wanna be the reinforcements, we wanna be the calvary whether it's on education reform or burn pits or cannabis. We can get shit done. And I hope all the activists out there that have been trying to scream from the mountaintops for decades, they know that we're here, and reinforcements are inbound.

Speaker 1: There we go. Reinforcements are here and ready to go. I could talk to you all day, and I would love to talk to you again, for now let's-

Paul Rieckhoff: Gillibrand is calling.

Speaker 1: She's on the line, right. Here she comes. For now we'll do the final three questions, I'll tell you what they are, I'll ask you them in order.

Paul Rieckhoff: Great.

Speaker 1: What's most surprised you at work? So I guess that would include both the military service and this service that you do. What's most surprised you in life? And then on the soundtrack of your life, Paul Rieckhoff, one track, one song that's got to be on there. But we'll get to that. First things first.

Paul Rieckhoff: Okay, so what has surprised me at work in my life?

Speaker 1: No, no. Work and then life?

Paul Rieckhoff: They're kind of intertwined, right?

Speaker 1: Exactly.

Paul Rieckhoff: At work is just that I'm doing this. When I was growing up as a kid, I didn't think you could make a career out of doing good in the world. My dad worked at ConEd for 43 years doing overhead lines and working in manholes, and I was lucky enough to go to college. I feel blessed but also surprised by the fact that I can do this. I've been doing this for 14 years, so I didn't think I'd be running a veteran's advocacy organization for 14 years.

Speaker 1: Are your organized? Yeah, how did that happen, by the way?

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, that's a whole other story.

Speaker 1: We'll do that next time.

Paul Rieckhoff: But I think the point is that I also want young kids out there to know that you can get involved in policy and politics and doing good and doing humanitarian work and social impact. And you can still feed your family. And you're not gonna get rich doing it, it's like being a teacher. But there are more-

Speaker 1: Or a podcast host?

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, or a podcast host. But more than ever, journalists are important, and I think that there's a pathway out there for you to make a difference in the world, and it's probably even bigger than when I was growing up. We need more of those kinds of men and women than ever before.

Speaker 1: What's most surprised you in cannabis?

Paul Rieckhoff: Right now how quickly the opposition's fallen. I feel like especially the partisan opposition, it didn't seem like the republicans were really against this, and now the dominoes are falling really fast at a level that I think is even ahead of where I thought it would be. Somebody said to me once that Americans are not stupid, but they can be slow, and I feel like that's generally the way that we approach public policy is sometimes there's these things like now seem like, "Oh, no duh." But it took us awhile to get there.

Speaker 1: It did.

Paul Rieckhoff: And so, with cannabis policy, I am a bit surprised with how quickly it's rolling.

Speaker 1: Canada opening up actual large companies investing in the space, I think is helping.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, well competition breeds excellence, right?

Speaker 1: Or money helps.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, and we're smoking it, right?

Speaker 1: What's most surprised you in life?

Paul Rieckhoff: Being a dad is amazing.

Speaker 1: Okay. How many kids?

Paul Rieckhoff: I got one right now, he's a little boy, he's three years old named Ryder and we got another little boy coming in about two months. Being a dad is the best thing ever, and I wish I had honestly done it sooner. I had my first kid when I was almost 40. I think I was 40. So, that is even better than advertised. It's hard, but a lot of things in life are hard. But it brings me more satisfaction and happiness and just more of anything than I ever could've possibly imagined.

Speaker 1: Excellent, and you're no longer a cigarette smoker?

Paul Rieckhoff: Correct.

Speaker 1: Okay, just, you know.

Paul Rieckhoff: Actually, I did smoke one last week. Occasionally, I do. Occasionally I'll smoke a cigarette, yeah.

Speaker 1: What I understand from you-

Paul Rieckhoff: I used to smoke a pack a day when I was in the Army.

Speaker 1: That's what I'm saying. How can you dip in and dip out? I would imagine-

Paul Rieckhoff: It's funny you ask that, because part of how I dip in and dip out is by dipping. Chew, chew Red man, and the guys in my unit used to joke around and say they knew how dangerous our mission was based off how many cigarettes I was smoking. But, I've been through the evolution of that too, and that's an exciting part of this too. When you live in New York, you've been in many ways been at the epicenter of cannabis innovation whether it's through delivery guy or vape pens, or whatever it is. So being in New York, you kind of felt this emerge all around you. Whether you partook or not, you still knew about it. So I feel like that puts us in a really exciting spot to be in in New York, right?

Speaker 1: Sure. What I think folks would say from the west, let alone other countries, is we were actually growing it, you guys were just stealing it.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, but you know what New York's the master of? Delivery.

Speaker 1: It's true.

Paul Rieckhoff: Deliver anything. Okay, you want red bean ice cream at for 4:00 in the morning, you're gonna get it. You want empanada? Okay, you're gonna get it. Whatever you want, and I mean anything, if you have the money and you know the right person, you can have it delivered to your apartment in under an hour.

Speaker 1: That's exactly it.

Paul Rieckhoff: Right? So everybody would talk all that shit, but then they would come to New York and go, "Wait, your delivery guy can be here in two hours?" Right? That's the truth.

Speaker 1: 100%

Paul Rieckhoff: So anyone in New York is like, "We got seamless, man." Is there cannabis for seamless? It's gotta be at some point.

Speaker 1: Yeah, sure there is. Absolutely.

Paul Rieckhoff: Maybe you can create that. Maybe you won't have to worry about making any money.

Speaker 1: All you gotta do is listen, and the investment opportunities will abound, Paul.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, I will.

Speaker 1: On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song, what's gotta be on there?

Paul Rieckhoff: Watchtower.

Speaker 1: Really?

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, Hendrix version.

Speaker 1: Yeah, of course.

Paul Rieckhoff: Hendrix version.

Speaker 1: Wouldn't have it any other way. Unless Bob Dylan, but I get your point.

Paul Rieckhoff: No, but Bob Dylan wrote it, right?

Speaker 1: Yeah, of course.

Paul Rieckhoff: But the Hendrix version is my version.

Speaker 1: 100%.

Paul Rieckhoff: Dylan wrote it, Hendrix perfected it, and my wife hates hearing this, but I actually have a playlist that's called Songs to Play at My Funeral. And it's been something that I've been working on-

Speaker 1: Is there a military element to that? Is that why?

Paul Rieckhoff: Well, you could argue it's a lot of elements. It's kind of about the apocalypse, right?

Speaker 1: Sure.

Paul Rieckhoff: But it's a killer song. It has this way of capturing an energy that I can't possibly describe. So you put me on the spot, what's a song? It's Watchtower, dude. And if you wanna go deeper in the wormhole, like all the different versions of watchtower, all the covers of Watchtower, that's really a fun game to play.

Speaker 1: Well do that.

Paul Rieckhoff: Thank you sir.

Speaker 1: Right now, thank you so much. Go ahead and rewind this now, but it's basically go to iava.org, read all the stuff and donate.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, go to iava.org, follow us on social media. We're really active on Twitter, which is a really important place to have this conversation. Check out iava.org/cannabis and hashtag cannabisforvets. We've also got, like I said, some really great creative elements. We've got the statistics, we've got the data, and if you can make a donation to support the fight, please do, but you can also just help by retweeting and spreading the message.

Speaker 1: Just pony up some dough, come on people.

Paul Rieckhoff: Yeah, that helps too. But, you know what, man? In a fight like this, the energy is actually what we need more than the money, so if you're some person out there that's rocking it on Facebook and Twitter and Instagramming everything-

Speaker 1: We'll take your help.

Paul Rieckhoff: We've got some Instagrammable stuff here, and it's kind of like the military. There's a lot of different ways to serve. And we're recruiting, so we need folks down for the fight. I appreciate you, man, as an activist myself, the fact that you've been out there for so long trying to advocate for common sense solutions and just fighting, that's a grind and appreciate your leadership very much.

Speaker 1: That's too much. Paul, appreciate it, we'll check in with you down the line.

Paul Rieckhoff: Sounds good, thank you sir.

Speaker 1: And there you have Paul Rieckhoff, very much appreciate his time. Very much appreciate every veteran's time. If we're gonna send them, gotta support them. Thank you for your time.

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Cannabis Economy is a real-time history of legal cannabis. We chronicle how personal and industry histories have combined to provide our current reality.