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After struggling to transition to civilian life, two Marine veterans say medical marijuana made the difference along with doing regular beach clean-ups.

SAN DIEGO — Two Marine Corps veterans who live in Pacific Beach said they were in a rut after serving our country for four years and struggling to adapt into society.

“We have this one mission in the military, and then when you get out, boom, it’s all gone,” said Austin Fagen, 28, who served as a CH-53 helicopter crew chief until 2015.

While trying to rediscover their identity, they both say medical marijuana was key.

“A combat veteran, a Marine, turned me onto cannabis and since then I have found a love for it,” said Gregor Coffaro, 27, who served as a Marine infantryman until 2016.

Fagen said cannabis helped him transition big time.

“Just with PTSD and insomnia and anxiety. I was given a lot of opioids from the veteran affairs the VA. I was just going down a deeper darker hole,” Fagen said.

The two found cannabis so helpful, they’re making it their mission to provide it to more veterans.

“We want to provide better access to everyone, and we want to give free weed to veterans everywhere. We’ll be able to give veterans free weed every month because they made the ultimate sacrifice,” Coffaro said.

The pair started the nonprofit “Purpose First” to educate more people on the different uses cannabis and to give back to their community by doing bi-monthly beach clean ups.

“We get everyone together to clean the beach and provide gloves. We pick up anywhere from 50 pounds to 200 pounds of trash,” Coffaro said.

They organize a group of 30 people on the first and third Saturday every month to meet at Crystal Pier.

Coffaro and Fagen know providing cannabis to veterans may be a tough sell.

“It is a deeply rooted stigma that we are just told like in the 60s about how devilish this is and how it is just bad for you, and there’s just so much generational propaganda around it, totally, we can see why it is considered taboo,” Fagen said.

The two say they are working on getting licensed, funded and want to open a retail store in San Diego.

“Veterans will be able to come in and pick it up whenever free of charge and we pay all the taxes on it. It will be a once-a-month donation to honorably discharged veterans, and it will be a select amount of dried flower, and then also we will have donations as well from other companies -who want to donate to the program, and we will have rotating products,” Fagen said.

For a list of services provided by Veterans Affairs in San Diego: https://www.sandiego.va.gov/

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