Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis 2018
FLAG DAY PROTEST MARION VETERANS HOSPITAL
Veterans PROTEST @ Indiana VA
Protesters say upside-down flags
part of 'cry for help' in fight for medical marijuana.
In a protest in Marion, veterans posed for a picture behind an American flag and the Indiana flag, both turned upside down.
MARION, Ind. (WTHR) -
It was no coincidence that veterans in favor of a medical marijuana program chose Flag Day to to hold a demonstration on Thursday.
They gathered in front of the VA Hospital in Marion to speak out not just in favor of legalization but to highlight the terrible toll the opioid crisis has taken on veterans and others across the country.
And they took an unusual and, some will argue, controversial approach to get their message across. More than a dozen veterans posed for a picture behind an American flag and the Indiana flag, both turned upside down.
Army veteran Jimmy Giordano said it was not a show of disrespect but a cry for help.
"If you see the U.S. flag flying upside down, it means distress or mayday," he said. "We are crying out for help and we need help in Indiana and the nation."
Studies show opioid drug abuse has killed more Americans than the Iraq and Vietnam Wars combined.
"If we do nothing, more veterans are going to die," said Jeff Staker, who heads Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis. He noted that last year, the overdose rate in Indiana jumped nearly 29 percent. "We need to send a message that this is the answer to get out of the epidemic we're in."
Terry Chambers, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Marion, organized the protest.
"My goal is stop the addiction going on, to stop the opioids they're giving out at this hospital I go to," he said.
Chambers said he was addicted to painkillers prescribed by VA doctors for 21 years. He said he suffered from a long list of ailments, ranging from kidney disease to high blood pressure.
Three years ago, he changed his diet, cut back on painkillers and turned to cookies made with cannabis, which he said changed his life.
"I don't feel like a man dying anymore," he told Eyewitness News in January.
Though he knows making and consuming cookies with medical marijuana in Indiana could land him in jail, he said, "I have no choice. If I stop, my blood pressure will go crazy. I could have a stroke or heart attack."
Iraq war veteran Nicole Kapusinski also became addicted prescription opioids after returning home. She said she's now off them, but she knows the pain of loss. Opening a photo album she carries around, she points to a picture and says, "that's my best friend who passed away. She was a Navy veteran."
Her album is filled with other pictures.
"These are friends I grew up," she said, noting the drug epidemic hasn't just taken the lives of people she served with.
"it's a huge problem and there are safer methods to promote to us," Kapusinski said.
While several bills calling for the legalization of medical cannabis in Indiana were introduced during the last legislative session, none went anywhere.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is a strong opponent and so is the Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys, which has said marijuana is not medicine and called legalizing it "wrong for Indiana" in any form. The governor has also voiced opposition, saying he's not willing to consider any changes to state law until the issue settled at the federal level.
But calling the opioid crisis a matter of life and death, Staker, Chambers, and others vow to keep fighting.
So far, 29 states have legalized medical cannabis