Todd Larkin, Ardmore, Oklahoma

In 2011, ten years after enlisting in the U.S. Army and serving tours of duty in Egypt and Afghanistan, Todd Larkin was discharged an E5 Sergeant and returned to his wife and kids in his hometown of Ardmore, Oklahoma, between Oklahoma City and Dallas.

He had joined the military straight out of high school, and returned to work and coach at that school, but within a year, the Veterans Health Administration diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. His mental health deteriorated over the next few years until his mood problems got him suspended from coaching football for a couple of games and he became suicidal.

“I was going down a road that wasn’t me,” he says. That’s when a friend from high school intervened, telling him repeatedly that he needed to try cannabis. “I didn’t think it would do anything,” Todd says. “My wife was pretty adamant about me not trying it.”

But Todd began to do research and reached out to people in the cannabis industry with questions. He became convinced it was worth a try, and broached the idea with his wife again. They decided to do a short trial of using cannabis obtained on the underground market, as there was not legal access in Oklahoma at the time.

“After about a month, we were completely sold,” Todd says. “We both saw a complete change in my mentality and mood. It was night and day from the VA meds.”

Todd was being prescribed nine separate medications, including Xanax, Prozac, a sleeping medicine and two more drugs to control the stomach problems from the other medications. To identify and obtain the types of cannabis medicine that work for him, Todd and his wife made trips to neighboring Colorado.

In 2017, sitting at dinner one night, Todd told his wife she should prepare herself, because he was ready to share more of his story. She was ready for it because she’d seen how much it helped not just his life but hers and the family’s.

Todd resigned from the high school to work full time on providing safe access to veterans and other patients in need in Oklahoma. He and his wife went to Las Vegas to meet with friends in the industry, tour facilities and meet manufacturers. When they came home, Todd was putting gas in his car when he discovered CBD being sold in his local gas station.

“I was really disheartened by how it was being sold and what people were being told,” he says.

He decided he needed to get involved to help ensure quality products and educate consumers and other veterans. 

“The biggest thing was showing people I’m a normal everyday guy with a wife and three kids, good job, served my country,” Todd says. “Patients like me are not the traditional stoners people want to see us as. I’m someone who never thought cannabis could work.”

In January 2018, Todd opened Pure Wellness Medical providing CBD products. He was also involved in the campaign that got State Question 788 on the June primary ballot. June was also the month he formed Texoma Veterans Alliance, a cannabis-specific group that now has over 100 members, with 70 or so participating at meetings that include education on topics such as safety, terpenes and cultivation. 

After the state’s voters approved one of the most robust medical cannabis programs in the nation, they became a full-fledged medical cannabis dispensary in October 2018, now seeing as many as 200 or more patients a day. In support of his patients who are veterans, Todd reaches out to local businesses such as a plumbing company for donations to cover the cost of medicine. As a result, he was able to outfit 58 veterans with WarFighter CBD last month. Like him, many were being treated by the VA but not seeing good results.

Todd’s outreach includes lobbying at the state capitol and in Washington, D.C. The took a group of veterans to the state house in February to testify before lawmakers about program changes, pushing for, among other things, a reduced-price registration for veterans. Originally set at $500 per patient, the governor just signed a bill to reduce it to $22 for veterans, starting November 1. Currently, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Oklahomans on fixed incomes will be eligible for the same reduced-cost registration.

This Memorial Day, Todd went to D.C. for a rally with the veterans’ group Plants Over Pills in Lafayette Square across from the White House.

“It was the second time I’d ever told my story. It was very refreshing,” Todd says of speaking at the rally of about 80 veterans. “Listening to other vets reminded me I’m not alone, that a lot of them had the same experience, though lots did not come home to the stability I had.”

Borrowing from what he learned attending ASA’s Lobby Day in March, he organized lobbying visits for the veterans, getting 40 veterans into 12 different meetings with national lawmakers or their staff.

Todd’s end goal is federal medicinal legalization, but he’s also focused on ensuring that Oklahoma has a good program. The state will not allow medicinal cannabis to be given away, but Todd’s working on establishing a program similar to one in Oregon that allows for “waste” or “expired” medical cannabis to be donated to veterans.

“If you’d told me 10-15 years ago this would be the medicine that helped, I wouldn’t believe it,” he says. “What has helped the most in Oklahoma has been education. It’s not what we were told all our lives--far from it.”

Yet old attitudes die hard. When Todd tried to donate $1500 to his old high school’s athletic program, the school rejected it, even though he’d worked there five years.

“I want to make it more normal for my kids, so we need to not whisper about it,” Todd says. “We talk about Xanax in the open, so why not this?

This profile was originally published in the June 2019 ASA Activist Newsletter