Indiana and marijuana prohibition


By 2020, Indiana may become the so-called "middle finger" of Midwestern marijuana prohibition. Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational weed last month, joining Michigan. It’s on the ballot again in Ohio this November and likely to pass.

More than 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in either medicinal and recreational forms, as well as Canada. But this is Indiana, where the political class can sometimes be a decade behind the sentiment of voters.

The October 2016 WTHR-Howey Politics Indiana Poll revealed 73 percent favored legalizing medicinal marijuana, including 58 percent of conservatives. Democrats were most likely to support with 82 percen,t followed by independents at 77 percent support and Republicans with 59 percent. Hoosiers older than 65 had the lowest level of support, but still favored legalization 57 percent to 41 percent.

Indiana governors and political leaders have trailed national trends before. During the 1970s as surrounding states lowered drinking ages to 18 and 19, Indiana resisted. Its neighboring states later reinstated the 21 age limit.

While Gov. Eric Holcomb says he would need Federal Drug Administration recognition of marijuana legality before moving Indiana in that direction, his status quo to side with the prohibitionists does so on social and economic issues. He told the NWI Times’ Dan Carden, "I’m not convinced that legalization will lead anyone to the promised land. I’ve asked the federal government to enforce the law as it is, and I’ve let them know that we’re a law-and-order state." Holcomb is also unimpressed with the state incentive of taxing legal marijuana sales. "We’d be happy to be a partner in that effort so that we are looking at facts, not just trying to run to some honey hole for cash," Holcomb told the Times.

With marijuana soon to be legally available in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, Hoosier cops appear to be poised for more arrests. "I have spoken to our Indiana State Police and Superintendent Doug Carter about this very issue," Holcomb said. "He’s confident that we have the resources that we need on all of our borders." (Psssst, Supt. Carter, "Mich med" is readily available across Indiana).

But Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse told the Terre Haute Tribune-Star that possession of recreational amounts of marijuana would likely result only in a ticket. And that’s where Indiana political leaders could show some foresight and wisdom.

Indiana is enforcing the law with apparent gusto. According to the FBI uniform crime reporting program, 8,691 Hoosiers were arrested on marijuana charges in 2014 (7,432 for possession), 9,047 were arrested in 2015 (7,802 for possession), and 10,143 in 2016 (8,953 for possession). So as the nation is trending toward legalization, Indiana is stocking its already crowded county jails with more potheads, to the tune now trending toward 100,000 each decade. The state is intent on adding to its data set more criminal records in its population while the commerce remains in the black market and off the books, and companies struggle to find workers.

I couldn’t find how much Indiana spends to interdict, prosecute, incarcerate and enforce probations on marijuana laws, but any discussion on legalization or continued enforcement should include such costs.

There are other emerging problems with states legalizing and the feds still in prohibition. Federal law (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3)) makes it a felony for an “unlawful user of … any controlled substance” to “possess … any firearm,” and since marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, it is a felony for a user of marijuana to possess a firearm.

Former Indiana appellate judge Linda Chezem writes in her Howey Politics Indiana column an array of discordant problems between states and the feds. SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy marijuana anywhere in the United States. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires reporting when "infants affected by substance abuse” and those cases have increased in Colorado, the first recreational state. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation does not authorize “medical marijuana.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says multi-family dwelling owners "must" deny admission to any applicant (or member of the household) that is illegally using a controlled substance, including marijuana.

While General Assembly Democrats have been the driving force behind unsuccessful legalization bills, Republican State Rep. Jim Lucas has teamed up with veterans groups seeking medicinal marijuana. Nationally, former House Speaker John Boehner is now pushing an end to prohibition.

WIBC’s Hammer and Nigel spoke with State Rep. Jim Lucas about the issue. "This is something that we have to be intellectually honest about, guys, and quit relying on decades of stigma, fear-mongering, and just outright lies on this issue," Lucas said. "(legalization of marijuana) is not the magic wand for everything, and yes, it can be abused. So with those ground rules established, let’s move forward and start having an adult conversation on this issue."

Gov. Holcomb would be wise to form a task force to study the impacts of medicinal/recreational marijuana and learn from legalized states. It could learn how much it costs for interdiction and justice and the extent of the black market.

Hoosier leaders could also decriminalize marijuana possession during the next legislative session while it researches medicinal and recreational impacts.

Brian A. Howey of Nashville is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.

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