Illinois joined 11 states in legalizing recreational marijuana this year, joining Michigan as the second state in the Midwest to legalize the substance.
In Indiana, nine bills related to marijuana died without a committee hearing in 2019, bucking the national trend. Over 30 states allow marijuana prescriptions for medical conditions, such as seizures and chronic pain, including Ohio, but Indiana’s legislature continues to oppose any bills related to the drug.
“It’s really the leadership in the House and governor’s office who are the roadblocks to get medical marijuana in Indiana,” Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, said. “I think if it got out on the floor of the House, it would pass.”
Marijuana bills in 2019 fall into three categories: medical marijuana, recreational marijuana and decriminalization of certain amounts of marijuana.
Seven of the nine bills originated in the House from both Democrats and Republicans. In the Senate, only Democrat Karen Tallian, of Portage, introduced bills for medical marijuana and reducing possession penalties.
“It’s very frustrating. Of course, we’re out of session so our next opportunity will be in January,” Errington, who authored her own proposals in 2019, said. “I suspect all of us who had bills last year will be filing them again.”
Errington observed that, unlike other issues, marijuana has bipartisan support from representatives like Republican Jim Lucas, of Seymour, who authored two bills in 2019.
“We all get calls from constituents about their medical conditions or their child’s medical condition… Here, if they do something that they can do in another state, they’ll be engaging in a criminal act and they don’t want to do that,” Errington said, saying she’d heard from constituents moving to other states for medical marijuana access.
“So it just seems really criminal not to allow people the opportunity to try it without having to do it illegally,” Errington said. “Why should we have to wait?”
Opposition to marijuana in the Hoosier State
Two vocal organizations against legalizing marijuana, either medicinally or recreationally, are the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC) and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
“Information purporting that marijuana is medicine is based on half-truths and anecdotal evidence. Nearly every review of the science concludes that smoked marijuana is not a medicine,” David N. Powell, the executive director, said in a 2017 letter to Jim McClelland, the chairman of the Indiana Commissions to Combat Drug Abuse.
Powell said that some isolated components may have medical promise but, “these active ingredients must be isolated from the rest of the cannabis plant - as we do, for example, when we create morphine from opium.”
States that legalized marijuana, IPAC said, saw decreased productivity from unmotivated employees, impaired drivers causing car crashes and higher drug use among teens.
The Indiana Chamber, in 2019 releases on marijuana, remained staunchly opposed to any recreational legalization and asked for evidence before legalizing the substance for medical uses.
“The Chamber opposes the legalization of botanical marijuana for medical or therapeutic use, until a time when its efficacy and safety have been proven consistent through clinical trials,” the chamber said on its website.
On the federal level
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs discussed financial challenges for the legal cannabis industry. Because of marijuana’s federal prohibition, financial regulators can potentially punish institutions providing banking services to cannabis businesses in states with legal protections.
Senators previously considered allowing states to regulate the substance with no federal prohibition.
According to a Marijuana Policy Project annual report, 27 state legislatures considered bills to legalize marijuana, several states eliminated jail time for marijuana possession and other states expanded medical marijuana.
"Our strategy of building pressure on Congress is working, and we've seen historic progress in 2019. Leaders in both parties are talking about the need for reform and giving this issue the attention it deserves,” Don Murphy, the director of federal policies with MPP, said. “The (U.S.) House's decision to protect states' legalization policies is a very encouraging sign. It's possible that we'll see the end of federal prohibition before the 2020 election."