IndyCann and Higher Fellowship founder Bobbie Young talks about Saturday’s rally at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis, which invited medical cannabis patients to share their stories and advocate for legalization of medical marijuana.
Bearing green flags and leaf-adorned pins, medical marijuana advocates started gearing up Saturday for another fight for legalization in the state legislature.
Lawmakers, veterans, patients and more than 100 advocates gathered in the Indiana State Library for a town hall hosted by Indiana NORML to praise the benefits of medical cannabis and outline a plan of support for the 2019 legislative session.
“We keep hearing cannabis is a gateway drug,” said state Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour. “It is a gateway drug. It’s a gateway to a better-quality life.”
Lucas joined two other state lawmakers, Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, and Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, to advocate for medical marijuana and pledge to work on legislation.
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Tallian said the tide has started to turn in the state legislature, with more lawmakers becoming open to the idea of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. She proposed having the legislature form a cannabis commission next year.
“When you have a commission, you have legitimacy,” she said. “If we have a structure, it will convince people of a legitimate program, a legitimate organization.”
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, but Indiana’s legislature has mostly been reluctant to tackle the issue. Senate Leader David Long said earlier this year that the Senate is mostly against legalizing medical cannabis.
Indiana lawmakers took a small step in a positive direction for medical marijuana supporters when the state House of Representatives unanimously voted in January to study the issue before the 2019 legislative session. House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Matt Lehman proposed the study, which is set to begin in October.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said he supports the study, but that does not necessarily mean he will support legalization.
Lucas recently returned from a trip to Colorado, where he said he saw how acquiring cannabis legally there was as casual as, “hey, let’s go to Mass Ave. and get a drink” is in Indianapolis. Lucas said he tried cannabis while on vacation in Colorado, though he acknowledged it was not his first time.
“Colorado respects the freedom of adults acting responsibly and that’s what we need to do here,” Lucas said.
Many of the presentations at Saturday’s forum called cannabis the “original” method of pain relief and emphasized that medical marijuana is a healthier alternative than opioids. One presenter cited a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine that showed that opioid use decreased in states with medical cannabis laws.
Several people at Saturday’s forum spoke to how the substance had helped them overcome pain from chronic diseases and surgeries.
Sylvia Kemp, who described herself as an “MS warrior,” said she used several prescribed medications to alleviate her pain to no avail. Finally, when on vacation, she said she tried cannabis.
“I tried marijuana, which, you know, is not something I really did ever when I was younger,” Kemp said. “I’ll be darned if it didn’t work. Took my pain away.”
Another speaker, Adam Warczynski, said he moved from Indiana to Michigan, where medical marijuana is legal, in order to deal with his Crohn’s disease. Before he began using medical marijuana, he said he had 10 surgeries and hundreds of hospital visits over seven years in Indiana. In the eight years he has lived in Michigan, he said he has had zero surgeries and three hospital visits.
Veterans from the local American Legion chapter and the Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis organization said veterans overuse opioids when suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. If medical marijuana were legal, said American Legion member Kent Morgan, it could be “another tool in the toolbox” to help veterans in need.
“Our goal is to save lives,” said Rodney Strong, commander of the American Legion Department of Indiana. “If we can save just one veteran, it is worth it to us, and this (legislation) could save many, many veterans’ lives.”
Speakers encouraged the audience to contact their legislators and spread awareness of marijuana as a medical tool.
“Constituents are becoming more vocal,” said Rep. Errington. “And that’s when legislators start listening.”
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