Two local veterans with disabilities are working to change how things are approached at the NYS Office of Cannabis Management. They say currently, the OCM does not have a veteran representative/liaison on the cannabis control board or advisory board. And they want a seat at the table.
They have plans to make that happen. But first, here are their stories.
Curt Boshnack is the CEO of Sunwalker Farms in Canandaigua. It’s a prospective cultivator in New York State under social equity. Boshnack is also part of the Veteran’s Committee for the Cannabis Association of New York.
But it took time for him to get to where he is today. Boshnack was an Embassy Guard in the Marine Corps. He did internal and external security at embassies all over the world, including Baghdad, Iraq and Thailand.
“A lot of my military time was spent overseas,” he said. “I’ve experienced some injuries in training, some out on different missions.”
When he was finished with the Marine Corps, he pursued a career in IT.
“I really clung on to my top-secret clearance, working in the Department of Defense and the Department of State as an Embassy Guard,” he said. “So I thought I’ll just go back into that same field, but the civilian version. Deep down I knew it wasn’t for me, but that’s all I thought I brought to the table. It seems like my quick pivot. After about five or so years, I was in a very bad spot mentally.”
So two years ago, he left the IT industry to pursue horticulture. He now has a 25-acre farm. And he couldn’t be happier.
“A big part of my mission is horticulture therapy,” Boshnack said. “That’s something that really helped me in my transition out of the military and I didn’t even know it until it found me. That’s what led to this career change and why I’m pursuing this. By being with the plans with your fingers in the dirt, you’re able to get out of your own head. You’re able to be at peace and work things out. Horticulture therapy saved my life in a lot of ways.”
He is one of 12 disabled veterans that is part of the Cannabis Compliance Training and Mentorship Program through New York State.
Stenuf was an Apache crew chief for the U.S. Army. She did deployments to Afghanistan, but then started to have seizures from epilepsy due to traumatic brain injuries.
“Come to find out you can’t have seizures and work on helicopters,” she explained. “So I got medically retired in ’13. At that point, like many veterans trying to transition out, I felt blindfolded. I felt like hey, you did your service, here’s your handshake, but then where do you go? It’s hard to navigate your benefits, what you have, what you don’t have. What you’re going to do. I was really in a rut as to what I was going to do for the rest of my life retiring in my mid 20s.”
So she turned to drugs and alcohol.
“I found myself snorting cocaine and drinking large amounts of alcohol,” she said. “And really being self destructive. I had no mission, no purpose, no sense of hope. After two failed suicide attempts, and a couple times in jail, I was like, enough. One of my buddies introduced me to cannabis.”
Stenuf said that was her pivotal moment.
“I just connected to people via social media,” she said. “Told people how to grow at home. It got to the point where my wife was like, we can’t keep living in the suburbs with five tents. You know you need a farm. You know you love the land. This is your calling. Like Curt said, it was my purpose and my mission. If I don’t tend to these plants, they die. It’s sad to say but that what got me out of bed.”
What they think needs to change at the OCM
“The OCM has defined what social equity is, so as disabled veterans, there’s a decent amount of us advocating, that if we are part of social equity, it only makes sense for us to have a representative on the OCM, on the control board, or on the advisory board,” Boshnack said. “No one can really advocate on behalf of veterans or disabled veterans if they haven’t served themselves. And so we feel that position is warranted.”
And they have ideas on how to make it happen.
“The OCM board is a very diverse board, but has no veterans,” Stenuf said. “Unfortunately, to change something like that, it would be a legislative issue. This could take months if not years to adjudicate and try to change the definition under Section 14 to create a position permanently for vets. Because it’s a three-year term. So even if we get someone in there, we’re going to be fighting every three years just to maintain a vet unless we change the definition of it.”
That’s one solution she said will take a lot of rolling up their sleeves. But there’s another.
“A non-legislative solution is to take one of the pre-existing civil service positions that are currently open under OCM, to utilize one of those positions and create a veteran liaison or representative position,” she added. “So veterans can at least have a voice in there. This would not require a legislative change and it would be a permanent fix. A permanent solution utilizing pre-existing money and allocated funds with pre-existing jobs.”
Office of Cannabis Management responds
FingerLakes1.com reached out to the OCM regarding the push for a veteran liaison and received the following statement:
“Service-disabled veterans are important and valued members of the equity applicant pool, we are in constant contact with them, and they will be prioritized as we work to live up the goals of our state’s cannabis law. OCM has an entire team dedicated to ensuring all members of the equity applicant pool are represented in the development of regulations and in the Social and Economic Equity plan, set to be released in the first quarter of this year. Service-disabled veterans and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses have been included extensively in our outreach as we develop that plan and regulations, including robust listening sessions both upstate and downstate, with direct, one-on-one conversations. We will continue to engage with this incredibly talented and entrepreneurial community as we move forward – their voices will continue to be heard and reflected in all of our work.”
Rebecca is a veteran multimedia journalist serving as one of our core reporters in the Finger Lakes region. She is responsible for telling stories that matter to every day Upstate New Yorkers. Have a question or lead? Send it to [email protected].