Jim Merritt: A letter to the Indiana General Assembly regarding cannabis

By Jim Merritt

Guest columnist

The 2023 session of Indiana’s General Assembly has commenced.

As you know, an issue that has gained prominence and support in the minds of many Hoosiers is the regulation of cannabis.

I write you this open letter for the purpose of providing focus on this topic.

The 2022 General Assembly interim committee hearing featuring cannabis this past fall provided a good beginning to show the legislature the amount of interest there is in regulating cannabis in our state. The next step in regulating cannabis is a very consequential one. One of a legislator’s main responsibilities is to protect Hoosier citizens. The creation of a system to regulate cannabis is right in line with that important duty.

Like it or not, cannabis is here to stay. Countless Hoosiers will continue to consume it illegally and dangerously with no idea what’s in it. A full vetting of the issue is a necessity now. Now is the time for a two-year cannabis commission. Folks will scoff at this idea and yet, it’s a common sense move. Remember, commissions have created quality public policy initiatives, such as reforming the property tax system and selling alcohol on Sundays.

A commission would uncover best and worst practices in the states that currently regulate cannabis. A commission would have the mission to create an integral framework of guidelines and standards for the product to protect public health and provide consumer safety.

Indiana has ideal soil and climate conditions for the growth of hemp. The regulation of hemp would offer the potential of an economic impact to the state that will result in substantial tax revenues and 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs in advanced manufacturing for hemp-based products.

All sorts of industrial uses of hemp have been uncovered, including bricks, rope and many other products. The supply chain growth that will fuel this will be driven by what is quickly becoming an “agricultural renaissance” for the Indiana farming community as we begin to educate farmers on the long-term benefits of growing hemp.

There is keen interest in the growth potential for the cannabis industry in Indiana. The Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards has taken notice. Arizona-based FOCUS was founded by a former Eli Lilly executive who has spent the past nine years leading the only entity in the cannabis industry that is dedicated to the development of third-party accredited health and safety standards.

FOCUS has established a strategic partnership with the Cannabis Hemp Industry Employee Employer Association, a newly structured Indiana organization. The association is committed to our state with its Indiana First Initiative. The intent with IFI is to promote the growth of the cannabis industry with a strong emphasis on hemp production on a statewide basis through structured educational mediums and building consensus within key demographic sectors and key stakeholders, including but not limited to political leaders, faith-based leadership, farming communities and corporate leadership.

Members of the General Assembly: The establishment of a state-sponsored commission will enable Indiana to quickly become the recognized leader in the cannabis industry and potentially be the first state to establish a framework for growth that is driven by standards.

More importantly, an Indiana state cannabis commission would be a leap forward away from our current unsafe conditions and will serve as a catalyst for economic growth in Indiana.

Jim Merritt served in the Indiana Senate for 30 years before retiring in 2020. This column previously appeared at indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected]