INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Democratic Party said it plans to push for the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in Indiana during the next legislative session. It made the announcement Monday ahead of Organizational Day for legislators Tuesday.
Democrats point to polls that show nearly 80 percent of Hoosiers agree with legalizing the use of marijuana for medical, recreation or both. Those numbers have only increased in polling over the years.
However, it’s not just the Democrats in support of legalizing marijuana. State Representative Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, tells us he’s also working on two bills.
“This is an issue that’s not political,” he said. “It’s not Democrat vs. Republican. Conservative vs. Liberal. This is a person issue.”
Lucas is drafting a bill that would allow adult use and a more conservative bill that would only allow medical marijuana. He said an encounter with a Vietnam veteran highlighted the need for change.
"Here was this gentleman, a total stranger, Vietnam veteran, broke down and started crying right there in front of me,” Lucas said. “He said, 'I'm tired of feeling like a criminal.'"
Possession of marijuana in Indiana is currently punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Prior convictions or possession of larger amounts of marijuana can increase jail time to a year or more. Michigan, Illinois and Ohio have all legalized marijuana in some form.
“Hoosiers have seen the impact that recreational and medicinal cannabis use has made on the states around us, and not only are they contributing to neighboring states’ economies, Indiana is now on the verge of losing out altogether," said Mike Schmuhl, Chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party. "The Republican supermajority at the Statehouse is losing its economic common sense if they do not join Democrats this session in making this opportunity a winner for the Hoosier State,” said Schmuhl.
Supporters argue money that could be going into Indiana coffers are instead going to neighboring states like Michigan. In 2020, 13 Investigates showed Hoosiers crossing the border to buy pot and bring it home.
“We're not controlling it right now,” Lucas said. “You know you can get it in schools. You can get it in prison. So, to think that we're controlling it right now is being disingenuous."
In 2019, the Marion County Prosecutor's Office announced it would not prosecute "simple marijuana" charges. Hundreds of cases have been dismissed for people picked up for having an ounce or less of marijuana.
Prosecutor Ryan Mears issued the following statement Monday on the Democrats' push to legalize marijuana in the state:
The continued criminalization of marijuana increases racial disparities in our criminal justice system and limits economic opportunities. The decision by the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office to no longer prosecute simple possession of marijuana cases has saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and has kept low-level and non-violent offenders out of our legal system.
Indiana Democrats also believe legalizing marijuana with create jobs and be a boost to the economy.
"Marijuana is a really popular issue, and a large majority of Hoosiers want to see this get done. Democrats are ready to take the lead on this effort because it’s a win-win for Indiana, and it’ll fulfill the party’s consistent promise of creating a better future for Hoosier families. It’s time to legalize recreational cannabis across Indiana,” Schmuhl said.
Democrats and some Republicans have made many attempts at legalizing marijuana in the past. In 2021, there were 10 bills filed. They all failed.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has also voiced his opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana. He has also continued to oppose medical marijuana saying in the past that he would not approve it without more research.
“We know where you stand governor,” Lucas said. “Step off to the side and let the process work.”
Indiana does allow the sale of CBD products and allow farmers to commercially grow and process hemp.