Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: Marijuana reform must become a priority in Indiana

As the push for federal marijuana decriminalization strengthens, several new marijuana reform bills reached the Indiana General Assembly two weeks ago. The ten bills were referred to different committees in the assembly, and all were rejected by their respective standing committee — except for one. 

The reform bills varied in specifics, yet they all proposed restructuring the criminal punishments regarding marijuana use and possession in Indiana. Moreover, these proposed bills provided hope that Indiana would partially end its war on drugs and create millions of dollars in economic opportunities for the state’s farmers.

Indiana can’t continue like this. The state must decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize its consumption.

[Related: OPINION: Decriminalizing marijuana will help stop the opioid epidemic in Indiana]

Republican lawmakers and leaders in the statehouse are clearly opposed to any sort of marijuana decriminalization measures. Six of the ten bills were authored by Democratic lawmakers, three by Republicans and one had both Democratic and Republican co-authors. The Democratic-led measures were certainly among the more ambitious, with two bills hoping to legalize marijuana.

Rather than sticking to party lines, public servants must realize the underlying benefits that come from marijuana reform. From the economic wellbeing of the state and the residents they serve to ending the negative consequences from the war on drugs, dogmatic opposition to decriminalization, legalization and medical-use prevents progress in Indiana. 

Republican Representative Jim Lucas authored House Bill 1028, which is the only marijuana reform measure in Indiana left standing. Lucas’ bill originally decriminalized up to 30 grams of marijuana possession, but it was amended after being referred to the Committee on Courts and Criminal Code. The changes were drastic, and the bill no longer includes any form of decriminalization. 

In its present form, HB-1028 establishes a higher THC-blood intoxication limit for people operating vehicles.  

Police argue this measure will make it harder to target intoxicated drivers, but this simply isn't the case. Marijuana stays in one’s system for a prolonged period of time and can appear on blood tests for up to a month after consumption. Under the current law, a driver who isn’t intoxicated could still be charged with a DUI if their blood tests positive for marijuana. 

While other decriminalization efforts failed, such as the single bipartisan bill which would’ve decriminalized possession of two ounces or less of marijuana, HB-1028 provides some good. Its passage would prevent police from unreasonably charging people for driving under the influence. 

Even if the reform bills had made it through Indiana’s General Assembly, they likely wouldn’t have become law. Gov. Eric Holcomb opposes legalizing and decriminalizing cannabis, and according to the Indy Star, said he wouldn’t support legalization until changes are made at the federal level. 

Besides HB-1028, Hoosiers can also look forward to the possible passing of new legislation regarding hemp. Hemp and marijuana look and smell nearly identical, but hemp is defined as cannabis with less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana. 

Indiana is one of seven states that has restrictions on smokable hemp even though the plant is federally legal

House Bill 1224, authored by Republican Representative Sean Eberhart, will allow hemp flowers to be fully legalized within Indiana. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority in the Indiana House on Wednesday. It now waits on Senate approval and Holcomb’s signature.

The legalization of hemp flowers will provide economic opportunities for Indiana farmers. Hemp farming has the potential to become a lucrative industry in Indiana, as the state’s soil and climate are great for its production. 

The bill will allow farmers, as well as residents of the state, more freedom when it comes to the production, consumption and sale of the various cannabinoids within cannabis. 

It’s a very small step, considering the range of marijuana reform bills aimed at curtailing the war on drugs introduced this year.  

In striking down so many reform bills, Indiana lawmakers have once again failed to see the benefits of marijuana legalization. Voters must now ask themselves, “Should the government have this much control over what substance I choose to grow, produce or put into my body?”

Marijuana reform must become a priority in Indiana. Because of the economic opportunities offered and personal freedoms Hoosiers rightfully deserve, let’s hope the General Assembly one day sees it that way. 

Kishan Dhulashia (he/him) is a sophomore studying business economics and public policy. He’s the photography and videography chair for Indian Student Association.

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