INDIANAPOLIS — Terry Moore sat inside the Indiana Statehouse one day in October and just listened, absorbing hours of testimony about whether Indiana should legalize medical marijuana.
“Cannabis refugees,” he said in an interview with CBS4. “I’m in exile. I want to come home. I remember during Vietnam all the things about welcoming home veterans. I’m not welcome home now and I gave my whole life to this state.”
Moore served in South Korea during the Vietnam War and during the fall of Saigon. He’s been diagnosed with PTSD, which he believes started after severe beatings he received as a child. Moore said he is now also a resident in Illinois to take part in its legal medical cannabis program, yet is still reluctant to share details.
“I’m afraid to talk about that,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid to talk about that because I don’t want to say anything that’s going to incriminate myself because I’m scared. I don’t want to go to jail.”
Thirty-one states have enacted medical marijuana programs, including Indiana’ neighbors. And voters in two more states – Utah and Missouri – approved the measure this past Tuesday.
In Illinois, state officials said more than 3,400 veterans have been approved for a medical cannabis registry card, including Shay Westhoff.
“I lost a lot of friends because they couldn’t stand to see the way I was,” he said.
Westhoff was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan. He said a shattered neck forced him to medically retire after more than 15 years of service. Westhoff said he was first prescribed a cocktail of prescription drugs before he was approved for the medical cannabis program.
Now he’s an advocate for Operation 1620, a non-profit the group in Illinois that is aimed at teaching veterans about the health benefits of medical cannabis, along with offering a place of support for fellow veterans.
“As far as cannabis,” he said. “My kids are wow my dad’s back because I’m not taking the pills anymore. My marriage is starting to get back to where it was. I’ve been married 15 years, and it’s been a rocky nine years since I’ve been home from Afghanistan.”
State Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) is helping lead the effort to bring medical cannabis to Indiana.
“To me it’s unconscionable Indiana is saying thank you for your service, but we’re going to deny you,” he said. “Not only we’re going to deny you something that has proven to work in other states, we’re going to make you a criminal.”
Lucas plans to introduce legislation during the upcoming session. And he is well aware of the opposition and skepticism among some experts about whether medical cannabis can really help veterans and those suffering from PTSD.
“There was a study done a few years ago that showed PTSD patients who used marijuana have more problems with violence and they’re more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs,” Ed Gogek said, an addiction psychiatrist and author of the book Marijuana Debunked.
Both Gov. Eric Holcomb and Attorney General Curtis Hill have said they opposed legalization. And a number of law enforcement and medical groups have also publicly opposed legalization as well, including the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
“There’s so many people that will come in and tell you a story that this helped me because they honestly believe it helped them when there’s really no science to back them up,” David Powell said, the group’s executive director.
Still, a group of Indiana veterans is convinced of the benefits and have been working to strategically lobby lawmakers.
Jeff Staker created the group Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis two years ago. He said he knows the fight is far from over, but the cause he believes is much greater than himself, especially after his conversations with fellow veterans.
“I’ve actually met vets who if it wasn’t for me going out and using a little bit of cannabis, [they said] I would have put a bullet through my head.”