INDIANAPOLIS — In the state of Indiana, marijuana in all forms has not yet been legalized. As a highly controversial debate even today, the rallying cry for legalization grows louder.
As Indiana’s opiate crisis continues, more seek what they see as healthier alternatives to the often-abused and addictive drug. In Indiana, there has been a reported 500% increase in opiate-related deaths since 1999, and this disproportionately affects veterans nationally, at a rate 1.5 times higher than the rates for non-veterans, according to an FDA report.
Jeff Piper, who was formerly in the National Guard, is an advocate for the usage of marijuana and its legalization in the state due to the potential health benefits. As an advocate for others to “be like me, opiate free,” Piper’s experiences with past opioid addiction and PTSD have shaped his perspective. He represents Patriot Medicinal Hemp and VIA.
“It’s just everywhere around me,” Piper said. “I have a sister fighting [opioid addiction], I have a younger brother fighting it. Neither one of those are veterans; they’re the younger generation of my family that didn’t go into the military. ”
Piper entered the National Guard when he was 17 and suffered a training accident when he was 21. From there, he was prescribed a multitude of medications, which presented him with difficult side effects and addiction. This led him to research marijuana as an alternative — a solution he believes has benefitted his health and wellbeing. Of the 13 medications previously prescribed to Piper, he now only takes one of them and supplements the rest with varieties of CBD.
The American Legion Post #34, a group of veterans hosting an event on April 20 for medical marijuana advocacy, has faced pushback due to what it says are misconceptions about marijuana legalization. The goal across the board is to educate the community and local veterans about their options when it comes to marijuana and CBD.
“One of the things that I really promote is the fact that we should be able to have [marijuana] as a medicine choice instead of the opiates at all, ”Piper said.
Kerry Turney, commander of Post #34 of the Robert E. Kennington American Legion, similarly faced opioid issues as a result of medications diagnosed for her lupus.
“I was on three morphine pills, four Vicodin a day, and five Xanax just to sleep because of what the meds did to keep me awake,” Turney said. “I don’t need any of that anymore. I can go right down to the gas station on the corner and get a Delta 8 and be just fine, and without any side effects to go with it. ”
Russell Johnson, legionnaire with Post #34, understands there are caveats as well and hopes to offer more insight as to the potential CBD has.
“I hope it’s a good way that people can see just the broad use of CBD or marijuana as a product that goes far beyond what traditionally people may assume,” Johnson said. “There is no safe drug, right? There is no safe alcohol, and vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking. It’s just like anything else.
“Everything can come in moderation. And so if you’re going to use it, and you want to use it legally, well, this is how you should do it. ”
During his time in the Marine Corps, there was a zero tolerance policy for drug usage.
“When you’re in the military, you’re by default going to be in a very conservative structure,” Johnson said. “There are standards that you have to meet. And so by default, while you’re in there, whether you like it or not, you’re going to be kind of conservative, right? Because you’re following the rules.
“The whole idea of the American Legion is to give everybody a common place where they can go where they’re safe to talk about these things and find out what resources they have available.”
“I think a little bit of how conservative or how strict you might be changes as well, too,” he added. “You know, I’ve been out of the Marine Corps longer now than when I was in it, so you loosen up a little bit.”
Several bills in support of legalizing, researching and decriminalizing marijuana failed to pass in the 2022 legislative session. Michigan and Illinois have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and Ohio has legalized it for medicinal use, but Indiana’s attempts through a dizzying 13 bills have all fallen flat. According to Forbes, 18 states allow for recreational use and 37 states allow for medicinal use.
“I know federally, they’re kind of looking into that proposal to make it federally legal, which obviously will change everything,” Turney said. “But, I mean, our governor is pretty against it. He’s made it clear several times that he’s not interested in doing that until the feds do. Having [veterans] know that there are legal things available to them to help is imperative at this point. ”
The Legion’s medicinal hemp event will be held on April 20 at the Robert E. Kennington American Legion Post #34 on 2210 E. 54th St. in Indianapolis. Piper, among others, will be speaking about their experiences as well as educating community members and veterans on legal medicinal marijuana usage. The event is free for all members of the community.
Ariana Lovitt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.