Everywhere you look this legislative session, bills are moving regarding marijuana and its various derivatives.
The pace has surprised some, but others point out the topic has been discussed for a decade and progress is just now being made.
“I feel like a terrier who’s been yapping at the heels of everybody for all these years,” said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage. “I’m glad to see something moving. It is a little frustrating to see how slow it’s been.”
She offered a measure to study marijuana 10 years ago and was laughed at. When she walked through the halls of the Statehouse people brought their fingers to their mouth and pantomimed smoking a marijuana cigarette complete with sound effects.
Her study bill passed the Senate but was blocked in the House.
So she sees humor and irony in the House unanimously getting on board last week for a study on the medical and social effects of medical marijuana.
“Big changes take awhile,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma.
Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and most of those have done so through a referendum. Bosma says the study doesn’t presuppose ultimate legalization. But it is the first step in that direction.
“It’s extremely encouraging for the veterans,” said Will Henry, department adjutant of the American Legion Department of Indiana. “If we can replace dangerous drugs with something better, it’s worth it.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he doesn’t support medical marijuana, and believes if it has medical benefits it should be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council has also been a vocal opponent of the move.
“Our concern with any intoxicant is that any time you make it legal you encourage its use. Other states have seen it,” said David Powell, executive director for IPAC. “We know there will be an impact on public safety and public health.”
While the medical marijuana debate moves to a study committee, lawmakers are easing up on restrictions for hemp and cannabidiol oil, or CBD.
House and Senate bills would open up Indiana’s industrial hemp industry by legalizing any hemp product that contains 0.3 percent or less of THC, a psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. This means users can’t get high from it.
That is much different from last year when Indiana lawmakers struggled to get enough votes to legalize CBD for epilepsy patients. A registry of patients was also required.
But the General Assembly had to come back to the drawing board after Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said it was still illegal to sell CBD. And while lawmakers are fixing that mistake, they are also opening it to all Hoosiers and not requiring a registry of users.
Bosma said the registry was included last year to mollify some concerns from prosecutors. But some of those prosecutors have changed their position.
And Fort Wayne Senate President Pro Tem David Long is convinced about the move to low-THC products.
“I’m hearing more and more people that I respect saying, ‘I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this,’” Long said. “And an awful lot of people seem to be helped by it.”
Holcomb is also on board – at least for nothing over the 0.3 level.
“I want to make sure that people who need it and can benefit from it have access to it. And, the labeling will go a long way in that pursuit,” he said Friday.
Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, was the first conservative Republican to support CBD, hemp and medical cannabis. And he is crediting himself for opening up the dialogue this year.
“The fear-mongering the other side presents just isn’t true,” he said, saying medical marijuana could reduce opiate deaths by 25 percent. That is about 600 Hoosiers a year.
“The research is out there. Indiana just needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing,” Lucas said.
Powell, though, said research shows if you smoke pot you are three times more likely to do addictive opiates. He said the struggle on the low-THC products is how to know what is on the label is truly accurate. And should people be able to buy it like chips and advertise it to children?
“Our worry is if we go that route you are letting marijuana in the room,” he said.
He also wants the entire debate to be based on science and fact – not anecdotes of people saying their depression got better or their elbow stopped hurting so it should be legalized.
“We’re not afraid of science and research, but anecdotes scare the heck out of us,” he said. “The General Assembly is being pressured to do what they think is popular.”