INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Staker knows the new battle that lies ahead.
The Indiana Marine veteran has registered a nonprofit with the state, Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis, and said he is committed to pushing Indiana lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana.
“There needs to be an alternative,” Staker said.
It’s in part his first-hand account of prescribing practices, with doctors in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Staker said that is promoting the new action.
“For me personally, it’s because for the past 10 years I’ve been on pain medication of one sort or another,” he said. “And a majority of that I was on oxycodone.”
The concern has been profiled locally and nationally, when late last year agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency looked into prescribing practices at the Marion VA, and questions about why that facility has ordered more narcotics and opioids than any other facility in northern Indiana.
“I started going to the VA and from there it was pills, pills, pills,” Stephen Tarter told us last year, a veteran from Anderson who at one point overdosed after years of prescriptions from the VA. “Nobody leaves without a grocery sack of pills.”
Members of Congress have taken note as well, questioning whether medical marijuana could be a solution to an over-prescribing crisis involving veterans nationwide.
A proposal by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) would allow doctors within the VA to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
But in a statement to CBS4, the VA said physicians are currently prohibited from prescribing medical marijuana or helping patients enroll in state programs because marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government.
“VA is aware that some veterans who reside in states with marijuana programs and who also receive care in VA, do indeed participate in marijuana programs,” a VA spokesperson said. “Given the differences between state and federal laws regarding marijuana, a veteran’s decision to participate in a state marijuana program is a personal one and not one dictated administratively by VA.”
Staker said he recently asked his doctor about medical marijuana treatment, who said he would prescribe it in a heartbeat if it was legal in Indiana.
“I surprisingly got an overwhelming response in favor,” Staker said. “Obviously I’m not advocating we do recreational use of cannabis in our state.”
Indiana lawmakers, though, have shown little appetite to even strongly debate the measure, let alone bring a vote to the floor of either the House or Senate, despite repeated attempts in recent years.
Staker, though, is working to build a new coalition of veterans groups ahead of the legislation session in January, including the VFW and American Legion, both which have met with Staker and have yet to take a position publicly.
More meetings with lawmakers and key interest groups have been scheduled in the weeks ahead.
“The overall benefit?” Staker said. “It’s going to save lives.”