Up In Smoke: A look at Indiana’s path to legalizing marijuana
Indiana State Sen. Karen Tallian remembers the moment that sparked her interest in marijuana legislation.
About a decade ago, Tallian represented a teenager right out of high school who was charged with marijuana possession when a party was busted by the police. The teen took a plea deal, complied with its conditions, and walked away with a criminal record. That conviction followed the young woman.
Four years later, she earned her bachelor’s degree and was student teaching.The superintendent, after finding out about the conviction, told the young woman to find a new career.
“She called me in tears. That is so wrong and so unnecessary,” Tallian said. “If that’s one story, I have 15 more. Those kinds of experiences were really what pushed me to say ‘This is a colossal waste of time and we don’t need to be doing this.’”
Indiana is now surrounded by states that have legalized marijuana. Illinois and Michigan have legalized use of recreational marijuana and Ohio and Kentucky legalized medical use, with Kentucky’s vote just finalized on Feb. 20.
Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who has authored, co-authored or supported medical or recreational marijuana legalization and/or decriminalization for around a decade, said Indiana legislators need to face the music.
Surrounded on all sides
Michigan and Illinois state law allows personal, recreational use of marijuana. Any possession of marijuana in Indiana is a Class A misdemeanor, and can result in 180 days in jail with a maximum fine of $1,000
Tallian said she’s been slowly chipping away at cannabis restrictions, and isn’t giving up anytime soon.
“I’ve offered every kind of discussion you could possibly think of. (Legislators) all know that they’re going to have to have this conversation …” she said. “The states are falling in line, I certainly hope that we’re not last. They know they have to have this conversation, but they just don’t want to.”
State Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, said he’s not afraid of the topic. He’s said he’s open-minded but cautious when it comes to changing marijuana legislation.
“Our governor is very resistant to this. I don’t think we should (be next) but I think quite frankly there is a movement toward allowing medicinal marijuana, especially with what we’ve done with CBD oil,” Karickhoff said. “The argument is if we use it medicinally, then we’ll use it recreationally. . But it’s still illegal federally, and Gov. Holcomb has been very firm he’s not going to support any legislation until the federal government legalizes it.”
Both Karickhoff and State Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, supported House Resolution 2 in 2018, “urging the legislative council to assign the topic of medical marijuana to the interim study committee on public health, behavioral health, and human services during the 2018 interim.” The resolution passed unanimously. Karickhoff said he hasn’t seen the results of the study.
Cook, who referred to himself as “old school” said he needs to see data to firm up a stance on legislation.
Additionally, Cook is concerned with the public safety aspect of legalizing. He wants to see solid research on traffic accidents and crime rates in states that have legalized as well.
William Henry, chairman of the Indiana chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (INORMAL), said polls conducted both by INORMAL and state legislators in 2019 indicated that majorities of up to 90% of Hoosiers approve of medical marijuana, and approximately 80% approve of recreational use. Polls that Tallian conducted showed similar results.
“The governor doesn’t dictate anything; the state legislature has the power to override the governor at any time,” he said. “If the state legislature was truly representing their people as these polls are showing, then they would rather do the right thing rather than abide by whatever the governor says.”
Holcomb couldn’t be reached for comment but a list of questions were sent to his press secretary, Rachel Hoffmeyer. Hoffmeyer referred The Kokomo Tribune to excerpts of a recent interview with another news outlet.
“I can’t (support legalization of medical marijuana) at this time because I’ve taken a couple oaths in my life,” said Holcomb. “I’ve raised my hand and sworn to uphold the law, this being one of them. It is illegal. It is a controlled substance. It is illegal per federal administration. The law needs to change there first.”
Law enforcement on legalization
Claims that people who are charged with possession of marijuana sit in jail is, for the most part, false when it comes to Howard County, Assistant Howard County Jail Commander Lt. Justin Christmas said.
“As far as inmates being held (in jail) on charges solely of possession of marijuana, I definitely wouldn’t say there’s a lot,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of inmates who spend a lot of time in jail specifically on possession of marijuana.”
Curious about an exact number of arrests with charges of possession, Christmas started looking at records beginning on Jan. 1. As of Feb. 25, 10 people were arrested for possession of marijuana and other charges. He said an example of those charges included two counts of possession of marijuana and possession of a controlled substance, syringes and paraphernalia.
One man, who was arrested Feb. 23 solely on possession of marijuana, was in jail on Feb. 25. He was the only instance of an arrest for a sole marijuana charge in 2020 to date.
“I’m not a marijuana fan, not to say I’m against anything,” said Christmas. “It’s just not my thing. Obviously, if there are professionals who think that any type of medication is important or significant, I would support that. Who am I to say it’s not?”
As far as personal use, Christmas said he doesn’t have much of an opinion except he chooses not to use marijuana and would prefer his children not use it. He said if the plant was legalized, he’d comply with those laws.
A medicinal herb
Cook said part of the reason he is open to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use is because of family members in the health sector.
“I have three family members who are doctors and the use for chronic pain and for hospice, many times they feel they might prescribe that type of medication for those people,” he said. “I say that gently because it’s still, federally, a crime.”
Dr. Andy Chambers, a psychiatrist at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, pointed out that THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis, is legal in prescription pill form.
The medication is called Marinol. It is used to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1985, according to the FDA.
“We’ve been able to prescribe THC for decades,” Chambers said. “I’ve seen it used legitimately. It’s important to know. It’s been around and totally legal and condoned by every state and federal government.”
There is no solid evidence showing that smoking the plant is more effective than the pill. Additionally, only preliminary results show that THC might treat chronic pain, he said.
Studies show that for about a third of chronic pain patients, pain was decreased by about 30% while using marijuana, according to the National Institutes of Health; 26% of patients saw a similar decrease when using a placebo.
“The problem where medical marijuana is legal is those legalizations have been made outside the evidence base. There are lots of doctors who prescribe it around the country,” Chambers said. “For me, I can’t do that because if you do it for that drug, where do you draw the line? Am I going to start recommending people implant marbles in their head because that’s what’s popular?”
When treating psychiatric disorders, the field in which Chambers has worked for about 20 years, he said marijuana is not a good fit for treatment.
“When we’re talking about palliative reasons, like hospice, I’m not concerned. When it is prescribed for PTSD or depression, that concerns me. This is not only not supported, the evidence is not consistent with it.”
Despite this, marijuana is still less dangerous than opiates, amphetamines and benzodiazepines. Chambers argued that this brings a better argument to legalize recreational use than medical.
Chambers said debates surrounding marijuana fall into extremes, that legalizing marijuana or its use as medication is either all good or all bad. Chambers said he’d like people to see both sides of the debate.
In spite of this, Chamber was steadfast that criminalizing marijuana is a damaging practice.
“Criminalizing marijuana is dangerous,” he said. “Arresting and jailing people for marijuana is far more harmful than the effects of marijuana are. So how is that proportionate justice?
“In a strange sort of way, the medical marijuana argument is probably mostly not real,” he said. “But on the other hand, criminalizing the drug when it’s used recreationally is also a problem.”
INORMAL’s Henry said that merely moving toward decriminalization in Indiana would allow people who are currently benefiting from using marijuana medicinally to not be treated like a criminal. He questioned the rationale of the current laws’ morality.
“Just because a law exists, it does not mean that law is actually moral or right,” he said.
While Henry used civil rights laws as an example to demonstrate his point, Dr. Chambers brought up 1920s prohibition.
“The truth is yes, it can be addictive, and yes, it can be used rarely with no real consequences, kind of like alcohol,” he said. “Which, we realized in the ‘20s we cannot criminalize two-thirds of the population with an amendment. People ignored it, organized crime took off and it’s just not workable.
Surrounded by states that have legalized marijuana, Indiana is grappling with how to handle calls for medicinal and recreational legalization.
These states could legalize marijuana this November
(CNN) — Four more states could choose to legalize recreational marijuana through ballot measures this Election Day.
Voters in Republican-led Arizona and South Dakota and Democrat-led Montana and New Jersey will consider proposals to legalize recreational marijuana. Another red state, Mississippi, is weighing a pair of ballot questions to legalize medical marijuana. Currently, 11 states have legalized full, adult marijuana use. All but two did so by ballot initiative, which poses the question directly to voters.
Polls show that the ballots initiatives have support in Arizona, Montana and New Jersey.
“It’s really showing the kind of breadth of acceptance that we’re seeing around the country with respect to cannabis,” said Steven Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group that works with many of the ballot initiatives.
Not every effort to get marijuana on the ballot this year was successful, though, with the coronavirus pandemic and early stay-at-home orders having scuttled signature drives to gather enough support to place the questions on some states’ ballots. “We lost the time needed to gather signatures or else there would be six states,” Hawkins said, counting the states considering full adult-use legalization this year.
The initiatives would only be the first step in the process, saidJohn Hudak, deputy director at the Brookings Institution who specializes in state and federal marijuana policy.
Should voters approve the measures on November 3, he said, the state legislatures normally would need to set up regulatory structures within each state.
Polling strong in Arizona
Arizona’s Proposition 207 would allow adults 21 years and older to possess, consume or transfer up to one ounce of cannabis and create a regulatory system for the products’ cultivation and sale.
A similar provision failed in 2016 by less than three points, but this time around, polling has consistently found majority support. A recent Monmouth University poll found 56% support for Proposition 207 among registered voters and 36% opposed.
Advocates credit higher support for this year’s effort to a reworked ballot question. Besides legalizing marijuana, it would also set up a pathway to strike prior convictions for marijuanafrom criminal records, and includes a provision for home growers.
Medical use has been legal in Arizona for a decade, and it remains the only state in the countrywhere the smallest possession of marijuana is still considered a felony.
Arizona’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey opposes this year’s ballot measure, asking voters to again vote “No.”
“The current system with medical marijuana is serving the people who need it for health-related reasons,” Ducey wrote in the state’s compilation of arguments for and against the ballot measure, provided to voters. “We don’t need the wholesale expansion that full-throttle legalization will bring.”
If Arizona votes to fully legalize this November, Julie Gunnigle, the Democratic candidate for Maricopa County attorney who supports Proposition 207, said it would be a powerful bellwether to other parts of the country.
“If Arizona can do it, the rest of the country is ready,” she said.
South Dakota could ‘leapfrog’
South Dakota has two measures on the ballot:
— Measure 26 would establish a medical cannabis program and registration system for people with qualifying conditions.
— Amendment A would legalize cannabis for all adults and require state legislators to adopt medical cannabis and hemp laws.
There’s a term for what South Dakota could do: Leapfrog.
Many states have followed a multi-year path toward full legalization, starting with decriminalization, followed by medical use, and then full legalization. But South Dakota is poised to enact both medical and adult-use in one fell swoop — via two ballot questions.
The state could be the first to simultaneously approve both.
South Dakota currently has tough penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis.
The state’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem opposes both ballot measures, and recently appeared in an advertisement urging a “no” vote against full legalization.
“The fact is, I’ve never met someone who got smarter for smoking pot,” Noem said in the ad. “It’s not good for our kids and it’s not going to improve our communities.”
If it does pass, Hudak said, “it would be a pretty significant step toward understanding just how progressive people are ready to be, in unlikely states, around this issue.”
Montana revamps its signature drives
In Montana, the window to gather the tens of thousands of signatures needed to place its two legalization questions on the ballot collided with the early months of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.
The state also has two initiatives:
— Initiative 190 would allow adults in the state to possess, buy and use cannabis for recreational use and defined a 20% tax on recreational cannabis. It would also allow people serving a sentence for certain cannabis-related acts to apply for resentencing or records expungement.
— The second question, Initiative 118, would amend the state’s constitution to establish 21 as the legal age to purchase, possess and consume cannabis.
Once the stay-at-home order was lifted in late April, organizers had to get creative to collect the 76,400 signatures required to make the ballot in June. They relaunched the signature drive with new health protocols in place, including hand sanitizer, distancing, temperature checks for volunteers and a new pen for every signer.
“We took a series of steps to make sure the pandemic didn’t take away Montana’s constitutional ballot initiative process,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director at the Marijuana Policy Project and one of the leaders of the Montana and South Dakota ballot efforts.
An opposition group at one point put up billboards warning “Big Marijuana is coming for our youth.” Montana residents voted to legalize medicinal use 15 years ago, though implementation has hit stumbling blocks with state approvals.
Like Arizona, recent polling shows support for legalization. Among likely and active Montana voters, 49% support legalization while 39% oppose it, according to a Montana State University poll taken in late September.
New Jersey navigates mail-in ballots
In New Jersey, state lawmakers, unable to drum up enough support to pass a bill to fully legalize marijuana agreed to place the question directly to voters: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?”
Public Question No. 1 would amend the state constitution to legalize cannabis for personal, non-medical use by adults 21 and older. If the measure passes, the state commission that oversees the medical market would also regulate the personal market.
Gregg Edwards, executive director of Don’t Let NJ Go to Pot, called the move to change the state’s Constitution “pretty extreme,” saying, “Now cannabis is going to appear in the New Jersey Constitution alongside the freedom to associate. And once it’s in the Constitution, the likelihood of it coming out is slim or next to none.”
Edwards said that normally, he’d be speaking with parent teacher organizations and local chambers of commerce to build support for the opposition effort, but this year “they just haven’t been available to us.”
“We would have liked to spend the spring, summer and fall talking to folks,” he said. “It’s just been next to impossible.”
The push to legalize has enjoyed a healthy lead in the polls.
But organizers — facing the challenges of expanded mail-in voting in the state due to Covid-19 — said they have had to help voters, some new to the mail-in-ballot process altogether, find the question on the ballot. itself. Depending on the county, it’s likely on the backside of the ballot.
“We have to drill down on making sure people know they have to flip the ballot over,” said Tara Martin with NJ CAN 2020.
Mississippi’s medicinal push
Mississippians will consider two dueling proposals to legalize medical marijuana. The state’s unique ballot’s structure asks voters whether they are for approving either Initiative 65 or Initiative 65A, or against both.
— Initiative 65 would allow physicians to recommend medical cannabis for patients with any of 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder. The constitutional amendment would establish a regulatory program for businesses to grow and sell medical cannabis and for the products to be taxed at a 7% rate.
— Initiative 65A, an alternative proposal, would limit the smoking of medical cannabis to people who are terminally ill, and would leave the future regulatory framework up to the legislature.
Even if a person votes against both, they still have the opportunity to choose between the two.
Should either measure pass, Hudak said, “it would signal a pretty significant change in politics around cannabis in the South in a way we really haven’t had a good test of yet.”
End of the road for legalization via ballot measure?
Advocates say they first pursued the piecemeal ballot measure process to legalize cannabis because it has been easier than navigating the time-consuming efforts in state legislatures. But they’re running out of states that use ballot measures to shape public policy, Hudak said.
Just 26 states have initiative or veto referendum processes at the state level. And already, leaders in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Mexico are calling for their states to legalize too.
“Conversations are getting more serious,” Hudak said. “A lot of progress has been made at the legislative level, even if there’s not a lot to show for it.”
But Schweich hopes voters’ decisions come Election Day will serve as a tipping point toward a national conversation.
“The reason there’s a conversation in Congress is because of all of the victories that we’ve already incurred at the state level,” Schweich said. “If we can win in New Jersey, Mississippi, South Dakota, Montana and Arizona, it’s going to send a really loud message to Congress that it’s time to fix this at the federal level in 2021.”
© 2020 Circle City Broadcasting I, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
These states could legalize marijuana this November (CNN) — Four more states could choose to legalize recreational marijuana through ballot measures this Election Day. Voters in Republican-led