INDIANAPOLIS — Federal Democratic lawmakers are once again moving forward with a proposal to legalize marijuana, weeks after Indiana legislators ended their 2022 Statehouse session without hearing any such bills.
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which House Democrats also passed in 2020, would abolish criminal penalties connected to marijuana, create a federal marijuana tax and expunge federal court records for nonviolent offenders caught with cannabis.
The bill is expected to get a vote in the House this week. It would also need approval in the Senate before it can head to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
The upcoming House vote is welcome news to Indiana NORML chairman Jason Straw, a veteran who moved from Indiana to Michigan for medical marijuana.
“We have over 5 million medical marijuana card-holding patients in the United States, so you have the numbers to show the benefit,” Straw said.
Meanwhile, lawmakers at the Indiana Statehouse wrapped up their session earlier this month without considering any bills to legalize medical or recreational marijuana, despite a push by state Democrats.
“Part of the pressure is coming from our surrounding states that have already legalized it and are now advertising in Indiana,” State Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie), who has introduced several marijuana bills at the Statehouse, said.
Errington pointed out that more Indiana Republicans have joined the legalization effort in recent years, though most remain opposed.
Republican legislative leaders, who were not available to speak with reporters Tuesday, have said they are waiting for marijuana to be legalized at the federal level before moving forward with state legislation.
“If they legalize federally, then that takes away that excuse,” Errington said. “And I think it will be the pressure to go ahead and hold a hearing.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states have legalized medical marijuana while 18 states allow recreational use.
Our reporting team reached out to members of Indiana’s congressional delegation to get their thoughts on the federal marijuana bill. The following is a statement from Congressman André Carson (D-Indiana).
“I voted for the MORE Act when it passed the House last session of Congress and will vote for the bill this week. The bill finally removes cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, which will decriminalize possession and apply retroactively to help clear the records of those disproportionately harmed by the failed ‘War on Drugs.’ This will help correct the historical and persistent injustices concerning disproportionate drug laws that have unfairly impacted communities of color and low-income communities. The bill will authorize much-needed federal research of cannabis, maintain FDA’s ability to regulate this substance, and it will also allow states to legislate on this matter – to legalize or not – as they see fit.”Congressman André Carson (D-Indiana)
Many Republicans oppose the bill, including Congressman Greg Pence (R-Indiana). Hannah Osantowske, Pence’s communications director, said the following in a statement.
“Congressman Pence plans to oppose a bill that would decriminalize marijuana and require an already over-burdened court system to expunge prior convictions and conduct re-sentencing hearings.”Hannah Osantowske, Greg Pence’s communications director
Congressman Jim Baird (R-Indiana) also voiced opposition in a statement.
“I am concerned about the wide scope of the MORE Act, which does far more than just de-schedule marijuana. This issue requires careful consideration and shouldn’t be rushed to the finish line until all outstanding health and safety questions are properly answered and addressed.”Congressman Jim Baird (R-Indiana)
The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate. At least 10 Republicans would need to join all Democrats in supporting the bill for it to pass.