While the tide of public opinion has turned into a tsunami of support for cannabis reform, prohibition is by no means a harmless relic of the past that can be ignored without consequence. Ordinary Hoosiers are being processed through the criminal justice system for no more than possession of a small amount of cannabis, often being used for medical purposes when standard therapies failed to provide relief without damaging side effects.
Take for example Gary Weaver, a resident of Wabash, Indiana. In 2011, Gary was in a nearly fatal car accident. After having worked six consecutive twelve hour shifts on a dairy farm, he fell asleep at the wheel and his vehicle crossed the center line and crashed into a cement culvert. Trapped under his own vehicle until someone stopped at the side of the road, he sustained multiple injurious including a broken leg, broken hip, crushed left hand and broken lower back.
He spent eight months in a bed, and afterwards found that he was completely dependent on the opioid medication being prescribed to manage his pain. For four years he described himself as a “guinea pig” for his pain doctors, being given numerous prescriptions in an effort to control his chronic and severe pain, and he complied with every request and prescription. Finally, he decided to walk away from medication that was leading to more harm than it was benefit.
“The withdrawal was unbearable,” Gary said describing the process of quitting opioids, “and it was the hardest thing I have ever done.” To ease the symptoms of withdrawal and to manage the chronic pain from his injuries, he tried cannabis. “Although it was still a tough process, it worked, and I have stayed away from opioids for three years now”. While cannabis is illegal in Indiana, his family embraced his cannabis use because they saw the difference that it was making in his life.
“My family supported me in my use of cannabis,” he explained, “because they saw that it helped me be myself again after years of issues with opioids.” Unfortunately, while he was able to substitute cannabis for opioids to effectively manage his pain and regain a quality of life that he hadn’t experienced since before the accident, that wasn’t the end of the story. In June of 2017, he was charged with possession of marijuana, and after a long delay was eventually sentenced to 45 days of house arrest. His house arrest sentence began on September 4th, and he has already been drug tested several times, at his own expense, and is incurring numerous costs that will be a burden to his family.
Since being sentenced, Gary has been writing his elected officials, including state representative Dave Wolkins and state senator Andy Zay, to share his story. He hasn’t received a response from either of them yet, although there is evidence to suggest that Wolkins might be waking up to the importance and popularity of the issue. The Times Union Online covered a candidate forum that took place on April 24th of this year, and Representative Wolkins was quoted saying, “If we could figure out how to make it so that just those who need it and use it can be controlled, then I could probably be convinced to support it.” He referenced his legislative survey, the results of which demonstrated that 53% of those in his district who responded to the survey support medical cannabis, as a driving force behind his newfound openness. Representative Wolkins was invited to provide a comment for this article, although at the time of publication he had not responded.
Weaver also wrote to Governor Holcomb. Kristen Kane, the Constituent Services Representative for the Office of the Governor, replied with the default form letter that is used to reply to every cannabis-related communication. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the entity that approves drugs for use by citizens,” the letter states. “That agency has not approved marijuana as safe and effective. Given the FDA’s position and the state’s ongoing drug epidemic, Governor Holcomb will not support efforts to legalize the possession or use of recreational or medical marijuana.” Holcomb stated in a recent interview with Hammer and Nigel that he was “open-minded” about the issue, but he also stressed that it was not on his agenda.
While the incumbents in Gary’s district might not be rushing to pass cannabis reform legislation, others running for office in his area are. “Legalization is not just a speculative issue”, said Gary Snyder, who is running for state senate in district 17, currently held by state senator Andy Zay. “People in my community like Gary are needlessly suffering from Indiana’s current set of laws. We need people in the Statehouse who will proactively address this issue, not just continue to kick the can further down the road.”
Without the ability to use cannabis, Gary is finding his back pain creeping up on him again. But that isn’t stopping him from stepping up to be one of the many Hoosiers sharing their story of cannabis use with the public. His description of the therapeutic value derived from cannabis might be dismissed by some as an “anecdote”, although most people would agree: neither Gary nor anyone should be confined to their own home, incarcerated, or otherwise processed through the criminal justice system for seeking a better quality of life through the use of cannabis.