Ind. Veteran Pushing For Legalization Of Medical Marijuana

By Barbara Brosher
Posted January 13, 2017

The American Legion of Indiana could consider a resolution this weekend that would encourage state lawmakers to develop a medical marijuana program.

The proposal comes from a Kokomo veteran who hopes medical marijuana could help veterans struggling with opioid addiction.

But, similar proposals have failed to gain traction at the statehouse.

Veteran Hopes Medical Marijuana Could Help Treat Physical, Emotional Pain

Veterans gather on a daily basis at the bar or around tables at the American Legion post in Martinsville to catch up with each other. The talk revolves around their families, politics and, lately, a proposal from another veteran to make medical marijuana legal in Indiana.

“People don’t know what kind of pain old men have. You can explain it to them, but nobody knows”

—James Ritter, Veteran

“If marijuana is medically available for older veterans that have a need for pain relief, yes, do it,” says Veteran James Ritter.

Ritter spent two decades with the Indiana National Guard. He says he supports any legislation that could help fellow veterans improve their health.

“[Legislators] need to go to the veteran’s home in Lafayette, they need to go to the nursing homes where the veterans are there that cannot do anything for themselves but just take pills that doctors prescribe,” Ritter says. “And they’re not getting any better. They need to go out and visit these people instead of just hear stories about it.”

The non-profit Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis released an ad throughout the state this month. Veteran Jeff Staker started the initiative to push for a medical marijuana program in Indiana.

He spoke during the legislature’s veteran’s affairs committee this week. Staker says he’s interested in how marijuana could help curb opioid addiction.

“We got veterans dying every 30 minutes of prescription pain overdose,” he says.

According to Veterans Affairs officials, about 60 percent of those returning from deployments in the Middle East suffer from chronic pain. Doctors often prescribe powerful opioid painkillers that can be highly addictive.

A study published earlier this year found when states legalize medical marijuana, the number of painkillers prescribed drops significantly. Staker says he’s hopeful a medical marijuana program could help veterans with other health problems, too.

“As veterans we’re looking at it as a way to treat veterans from things from PTSD to chronic pain,” he says.

Staker drafted a resolution calling on legislators to develop a medical marijuana program and the American Legion of Indiana could vote on the proposal Saturday.

Va committee

Photo: Barbara Brosher

Previous medical marijuana bills proposed at the statehouse failed to gain any traction.

Previous Attempts To Pass Medical Marijuana Legislation Unsuccessful

A small number of legislators are also calling on the state to adopt such a program. Senator Karen Tallian, D-Portage,  filed a bill this year – and for the past several years –  to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

She wants the state to develop a program of its own. More than half of the states in the country have medical marijuana programs, including neighboring states Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.

“I setup a Department Of Marijuana Enforcement, we’re going to call it DOME,” Tallian says. “And this department would then put together a more comprehensive, specific program and then bring it back to the legislature.”

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