Jeff Staker

Jeff Staker is a former Marine and currently a firefighter at Grissom Air Reserve Base who is lobbying state lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana. Submitted photo

The American Legion Department of Indiana is set to vote next week on a resolution approved by area veterans asking state lawmakers to setup a statewide cannabis treatment program as a medical alternative for veterans.

The resolution was first submitted to Kokomo’s American Legion Post 6 by member Jeff Staker, who in July launched a full-on campaign to get medical marijuana legalized for veterans through his non-profit organization Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis.

Staker said the resolution was unanimously approved by members of the Kokomo post, and was then approved by the American Legion District 5, which covers 10 counties in north central Indiana.

That allows it to be heard by members of the American Legion Department of Indiana, who are now set to vote on the resolution next Friday during their mid-winter conference in Indianapolis.

Staker said he wrote and submitted the resolution as part of his push to get lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana for Indiana veterans – a proposal which legislatures have consistently turned down over the last decade.

But Staker hopes to change that by getting the support and endorsement from one of the largest veteran’s organizations in the state.

“Who’s going to get this done? Veterans have a better chance of being at the tip of the spear than Joe civilian,” he said in an interview last year. “Legislators listen to veterans. We’ve got to get their attention, and who better to do that than veterans?”

The state resolution comes on the heels of the American Legion national convention in August, during which the organization officially requested the Drug Enforcement Agency to license privately-funded medical marijuana production operations to allow for cannabis research.

Members also asked the U.S. Congress to reclassify marijuana from a schedule I drug, defined as having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, and recognize cannabis has potential medical value.

With the national convention taking steps to legalize medical marijuana, Staker said, it was time the Indiana American Legion to do the same.

“We needed to do something here at the state level,” he said. “I’ve been talking to a lot of American Legion posts, and they all said, ‘We’re all for it.’”

The resolution highlights the fact that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Administration has now recognized medical cannabis use by patients, and allows VA physicians to advise and monitor patients who use cannabis in states where it is legal.

It also states that cannabis reportedly doesn’t have the adverse side effects of other drugs often prescribed to veteran patients with chronic illnesses or debilitating conditions.

Staker said he’s confident the resolution will pass next week. If that happens, he hopes state lawmakers will take notice and start to seriously consider legalizing medical cannabis, just like 28 other states have done.

“I think it’s going to pass, because I see this as a trend throughout the U.S.,” he said. “This is an issue that if Hoosier voters would have put on the ballot, it would have passed in November. No doubt in my mind.”

In the meantime, Staker has continued to push for legalized medical cannabis through his non-profit organization. He said he’s sent packets of information detailing the health benefits of marijuana to all 150 state legislatures.

Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis also ran television ads on five different networks throughout the state to garner support for the cause, he said.

“We’re trying to open up the eyes of our politicians,” Staker said. “If they don’t see the support out there, they’ve got their head in the sand.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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