These Veterans Are Finding New Careers in Cannabis
Inside a nondescript industrial warehouse outside Downtown Los Angeles, nestled among a sea of other nondescript warehouses, Army veteran Steven Passmore is hard at work. His hair is pulled back with a thin, stretchy headband, and beads of sweat drip down his temples as he shuttles between temperature-controlled rooms. Heat, humidity, and the skunky smell of sensimilla ebb and flow as he traverses the maze of cultivation rooms that make up the grow facility for THC Design.
Passmore, 33, started working in the warehouse about a month ago as part of the company’s recently launched internship for veterans. The 12-week, paid program teaches the cannabis cultivation process from seed to sale, emphasizing on on-the-job learning.
“For some veterans, they need a dog. For some of them, they need a support group. For me, I like plants,” Passmore says. “I like the idea and the opportunity to help something live, to help something grow.” The internship program, Passmore says, “definitely was a perfect fit for me.” He’d tried to break into the cannabis biz before, even going door-to-door handing out resumes at dispensaries, but to no avail. It seemed being a veteran wasn’t widely acceptable in the industry at the time, he says. But while other companies may have boxed out Passmore out, THC Design offered him a foot in the door. With help from community partners such as the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance, the company actively solicited veterans and received about 65 applications.
Though the program was designed to accommodate a total of only four interns, Ryan Jennemann, THC Design’s co-founder and lead consultant, said he was so impressed by the applicant pool that he ended up hiring three veterans as full-time employees and two more as interns.
“I was doing it because I wanted quality employees in the company,” Jenneman says, noting that veterans, in his experience, tend to be smart, respectful, and hard-working. “It wasn’t some PR stunt or marketing venture.” But there’s a personal reason behind the program, too. Jennemann’s father died from heart failure at 47, after years of using doctor-prescribed opiates. His father was a medical cannabis advocate, Jennemann says, but it was illegal in his home state of Oklahoma, so he was unable to use the drug as he wished. Passmore, too, was prescribed a pile of pills before he found medical cannabis. After breaking his clavicle during a tour in Iraq, he received an honorable discharge in 2007. But when he returned to the civilian world, he says, he had a difficult time reintegrating. He began going to the Veterans Affairs clinic, and, like many veterans, was given a laundry list of prescription medications to cope with PTSD, insomnia, anxiety, and overall “readjustment issues.”
When his mother, a nurse for more than 20 years, took a look at the list of pharmaceuticals he was prescribed, she urged Passmore not to take any of them and instead find a natural alternative, he recalls. After extensive online research that drew on everything from academic research to YouTube videos, Passmore decided to give cannabis a shot.
Not only did he start medicating with cannabis, he also began cultivating plants in a small closet at home. It helped spark his interest and prepare him for the internship at THC Design. The gig—which is set to transition into a full-time position— is a “dream come true,” Passmore says. Frankly, he confides, he would even do it for free. Luckily, he doesn’t have to. THC Design’s two veteran-interns get paid $15 per hour, a few dollars above LA’s current minimum wage. The internship also includes a copy of Jorge Cervantes’ Cannabis Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to Cultivation & Consumption of Medical Marijuana, known to many as “The Grower’s Bible.”
Passmore says he appreciates the hands-on structure of the internship, which gives him the opportunity to learn everything from how to transplant clones and harvest product to how to troubleshoot problems, such as mold and pests. It’s a chance to learn by doing, he says. “When we got here, we were kind of just thrown in the mix.”