INDIANAPOLIS — The Department of Veterans Affairs says roughly 17 veterans take their lives every day, and that's a major problem for families in our area. Now, Governor Eric Holcomb is trying to change that.
On Wednesday, Holcomb along with INDYCAR driver Tony Kanaan, unveiled a new campaign by the American Legion to help end the stigma surrounding veterans and mental health.
The car Kanaan is driving in this year's Indianapolis 500 is covered with the words "Be The One." That slogan comes from the American Legion's nationwide awareness campaign.
At American Legion Post 34, the Indiana Democratic Party and several veterans organizations started a statewide tour focused on cannabis legalization. The tour was started on Wednesday, 4/20, which is an unofficial holiday celebrated by marijuana users.
Jason Straw, a veteran who spoke at Wednesday’s event, moved out of Indiana so he could use medical marijuana as a treatment.
"I was able to get off of 13 VA FDA prescribed medications by using hemp CBD and medical marijuana," said Straw.
Several veterans who spoke have similar stories to his. One organization, Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis, represents around 100,000 veterans. The organizer says Holcomb won't hear them out.
"I've had my organization since 2016,” said Jeff Staker, the founder of Hoosier Veterans For Medical Cannabis. “The Governor has never ever met with me to sit down and talk and have a discussion. I have been able to talk with several of our state legislators and stuff like that."
When asked about medical marijuana to help veterans with their mental health, here is what Holcomb had to say.
"I've taken a couple of oaths to uphold to uphold the law,” said Governor Holcomb. “The laws on the books as they are, it is unlawful federally. So, if I were in their shoes and felt the need to advocate on that front, I would be directing my attention to the federal government."
Holcomb added that he doesn't support it for medical use for the same reason. He also feels there needs to be more research done on medical benefits. But veterans who are advocating for legalization say their lived experiences should be evidence enough.
"I used to have up to 20 migraines a month. In the last year, by using medical cannabis, I've had one," said Straw.
So far marijuana is legal in some form in 37 states. There were several bills in the statehouse last session addressing the potential for legalization of some form, but none were passed. The Indiana Democratic Party says it will continue advocating for marijuana legislation across the state.