The Coast News Group
From left are Karen Hannawi, Ross Lazar and Gracie Morgan of MedLeaf, Oceanside's first medicinal marijuana delivery service. The company is also aiming to help veterans cope with trauma and PTSD through cannabis. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Oceanside marijuana dispensary aims to help veterans

OCEANSIDE — As the city has joined the ranks of legalizing medicinal cannabis, one business is using the medicinal properties to help veterans.

MedLeaf in Oceanside opened in July near state Route 76, a delivery-only service and the only dispensary in the city to date. Those behind the business are targeting veterans to help cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

Justin Baker, an Oceanside native who now resides in Georgia, along with his sister and brother-in-law, Karen and George Hannawi of Oceanside, put together a plan about a year ago. Baker is a former Army intelligence officer who suffered from PTSD after losing several team members deployed on combat missions.

Once he left the military, Baker contracted with the NSA and Army, but now works in the private sector. However, those issues remained, and he said his daily medication consisted of 12 different pills per day.

Growing frustrated with the lack of effectiveness, Baker said he tried CBD and it changed his life. Now, he aims to do the same with other veterans.

“I don’t have any direct experience with combat, but I did have issues when I was at Ft. Hood where I experience my first loss … when of our team members was hit by an IED,” he explained. “In supporting MedLeaf and trying to talk to veterans in the area … I’ve seen what cannabis has done for them has made me an advocate.”

Baker said the medication he was previously prescribed just kept growing and one friend, a former Army sniper, was up to nearly two dozen medications per day.

“I continue to use CBD every day and that helps me,” he added. “That Army sniper, for example, his daily use of cannabis has pulled him off all his medications.”

Karen Hawanni said she noticed the changes with her brother and felt helpless. But the three put together a plan to take advantage of the medicinal properties of cannabis.

Last year, Oceanside allowed for medicinal operations, so Baker and the Hawannis acted quickly to secure their state and city licenses. Their business currently cannot be a typical retail store, so they have a fleet of unmarked vehicles to deliver products to their customers.

Using their connections in the industry, the core group was able to learn about the licensing process, regulations and how to create a sustainable business. They submitted their application in 2018 and worked in close contact with the city, Karen Hawanni said.

As for their coverage area, MedLeaf delivers to North Camp Pendleton and Bonsall to west Escondido and south to Encinitas. And the security company hired by MedLeaf is comprised of all veterans, too.

“It’s been really rewarding, to say the least,” Hawanni said.