INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers are taking a closer look at whether the state should consider allowing medical or recreational marijuana.
The Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavioral Health, and Human Services hosted a discussion on the topic Tuesday, focusing on “potential health benefits, potential decriminalization, and other potential consequences,” according to the committee’s meeting agenda.
It was a packed house for Tuesday’s meeting as lawmakers from both chambers and both parties, along with public health officials, heard public input.
For several years, Democrats and a handful of Republicans have introduced bills at the Statehouse focused on medical or recreational marijuana. None have received a committee hearing to be able to move forward.
Indiana is one of 13 states that has not legalized marijuana use in any form.
“This seems to be an issue that we’ve kind of demonized,” said State Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso), vice chair of the summer study committee. “And by doing that, we’ve never had a real discussion.”
Republican legislative leaders have said they would prefer to wait for federal legalization first, but they gave the green light to Tuesday’s meeting.
Advocates like Jeff Staker, a veteran who supports medical marijuana, say it’s a promising step forward.
“It’s a safer way to heal, let’s put it that way,” said Staker, who runs the advocacy organization Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis.
While legalization in some form has many supporters, some are opposed, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
“Pre-COVID, post-COVID, the highest priority for Indiana employers is identifying individuals to fill vacant positions, and secondly, finding candidates that can pass a drug test,” said Mike Ripley, the chamber’s vice president for health care policy and employment law.
Lawmakers also took input from those outside the Hoosier State, including a Michigan lawmaker who shared his state’s experience with marijuana legalization.
“Having a regulatory agency has been just about the best thing that could happen,” said State Rep. Graham Filler (R-Greenbush Township, MI).
Meanwhile, others haven’t taken a position on legalization but say there are multiple factors lawmakers should consider if they plan to craft regulations.
Bryan Hannon of the American Cancer Society argued smoking marijuana should be banned in public areas.
“Smoking marijuana in public places unnecessarily exposes non-marijuana users to health risks,” Hannon said.
Lawmakers did not take any new legislative action Tuesday and cannot do so until the new session starts in January. It’s too early to tell if any bills regarding marijuana legalization could advance at the Statehouse next year.