As many already anticipated, anti-cannabis governor of Indiana, Eric Holcomb, made a recent announcement stating that he will NOT consider medical marijuana approval, decriminalization, or any type of regulatory infrastructure until cannabis is federally legal; but that he’s ‘open’ to allowing regulated sales once prohibition ends.
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Cannabis in the Hoosier State
When it comes to personal views vs state laws, Indiana is in stark juxtaposition. Speaking anecdotally, everyone I have ever met in Indiana either uses cannabis products, or doesn’t but still supports legalization and personal choice. And I have lived here off and on for about 7 years now, so I’ve spoken to quite a few different people on the matter.
Statistically, the numbers are not far off from what I’ve been noticing first hand. Regional surveys have found that 84% of Hoosiers support more lenient and progressive cannabis regulations. Approximately 39 percent of residents would like to be legalized for any purpose (adult-use/recreational), while 42 percent prefer only medical use to be permitted. Regardless, only 16 percent of Indiana residents support the laws as they currently stand, so suffice it say, there is a huge discrepancy between what the people want, and what Eric Holcomb is willing to give us; at least for the time being.
Penalties for possession are rather harsh in Indiana, which is one of the most restrictive states in the entire country. A first offense of possession of up to 30 grams of flower is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and up to 180 days in jail. If you have priors, you’re looking at class A misdemeanors and even felony charges. Same goes for subsequent possession charges. If you’re found to be growing and/or distributing, or if you have concentrates, you’re looking at a possible felony for your first offense.
Governor Holcomb’s Statements
During a year-end interview with Indy Politics conducted earlier this week, Holcomb was asked what he thought about lawmakers starting the process of setting up some type of licensing and retail structure so when cannabis does become legal, Indiana will be ready to launch their own program. “I don’t mind that at all,” the governor replied.
It’s much different than what other legal states have been doing thus far, and the approach is not without benefits. Instead of rushing head first into legalization with no regulatory framework in place, then scrambling to deal with issues at the last minute as they come up, Indiana can look at other states for guidance in forging their own program with as little room for error as possible.
Although Holcomb is on board with getting a game plan in place for the future, he made sure to emphasize that cannabis legalization is not a top priority for him, and that no circumstances will sway him to act on this matter before the federal government does.
“We’re talking about something that is illegal, and it’s just at the core of me—I’ve said this, I’ve taken a couple blows—it’s to uphold and defend the laws of the state and nation,” the governor said. “I don’t get to pick and choose. Even if I agreed with it, I couldn’t get myself to just look the other way as a lot of states have. But just because a lot of other states have doesn’t mean it’s the right thing.”
In the meantime, Holcomb said he does want to see more research into cannabis. “I would encourage research, proper research, to be conducted,” he added. “We’ve got Indiana University and Purdue University that agree to participate in—an ag school, a medical school—to do the proper research as they would with any other controlled substance and get the [Food and Drug Administration] involved in and get real data.”
Legal weed on all sides
Indiana is the last prohibition stronghold in a sea of midwestern green. Looking west, Illinois has a recreational cannabis program that went into effect on January 1st, 2020. They have a thriving market that has already outpaced liquor sales, totaling around $560 million in the last couple years. There are dispensaries all over the state, even in rural areas.
Then we go up north to Michigan, where medical cannabis passed back in 2008 and recreational was legalized a decade later in 2018. As of April 2021, the state had a total of 410 medical dispensaries, 260 recreational stores, and 91 pending licenses for new businesses. They are evenly distributed throughout the state and quite a few are conveniently close to the Indiana state line.
Other surrounding states are a bit slow to hit the button on full legalization, but the cannabis conversation is ongoing throughout the entire Midwest. Ohio, for instance, has a comprehensive medical program with over 10,000 active patients. To the south, Kentucky has a medical bill in the works that is expected to pass soon. And even further west, both Kansas and Missouri have cannabis-related initiatives waiting to be voted on when sessions reconvene in 2022; recreational in Missouri and medical in Kansas.
Eli Lily and the pharmaceutical industry roadblock
Many locals believe that Indiana is basically bought and paid for by Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals, a known enemy of cannabis reform who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against legalization. Eli Lily is the 4th largest company and employer in the state, with a total of 10,281 employees in Indiana alone – a third of their global worker count. Eli Lily is one of the many pharmaceutical companies that are spending millions every year to lobby against cannabis legalization.
Knowing what we know about cannabis and how its compounds work with the human endocannabinoid system, it makes sense why it can be used medicinally to treat so many different and wildly varying ailments. It’s also safe to assume that as an effective, non-toxic, and natural therapeutic, cannabis has the potential of completely replacing dozens, if not hundreds, of existing pharmaceutical medications. According to retired police officer-turned-legalization advocate Howard Wooldridge, “Big Pharma is a top opponent of legalization, due to the emerging potential of marijuana as an alternative to Advil, ibuprofen all the way to Vicodin, pills for nausea – I mean expensive store-bought pills.”
This theory is further cemented by a recent study claiming that, on average, states providing easy access to medical marijuana saw a 20 percent drop in prescription drug use, particularly opioids. A review of 79 total studies on this subject found that patients experienced, roughly, a 30 percent improvement in pain with cannabinoids compared to placebos, and in states where dispensaries are widely distributed, the rate of opioid-related hospital admissions and deaths dropped by 15-35 percent.
A lot of the main figures in the fight against cannabis legalization are the companies making opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin and Zohydrol. “It’s more than a little odd that groups leading the fight against relaxing marijuana laws derive a significant portion of their budget from opioid manufacturers and other pharmaceutical companies.” – Lee Fang, Journalist and Investigative Reporter at The Intercept. But it’s not just pain medication that takes a back seat to the powers of medicinal cannabinoid, in legal states, doctors report writing fewer prescriptions for depression, anxiety, seizures, and nausea medications as well.
Any unbiased comparison of benefits vs risks would find that weed is superior to prescription pills on a regular basis. No matter how you look at it, the financial stakes are crazy high. In addition to big pharma obviously trying to protect its $10 billion annual revenues, prescription pill dependency causes a ripple effect of additional problems, many of which are expensive and profitable. For example, think of all the incurred medical and rehabilitative treatments needed to treat opioid addiction, repeated overdoses, and spread of disease within drug-using communities.
The more pills you’re one, the more money they make… and more cannabis you have access to, the less pills you need to take. It’s pretty easy to see the conflict here.
This is Indiana, so we can’t expect too much. But it’s good to know that once possession of cannabis is federally legal, Governor Holcomb won’t hinder the state’s ability to implement a recreational market, which will translate to a lot of revenue for the state. So far, Rep. Sue Errington (D) from Muncie has been assigned to the case, and she claims to be working on a bill “along the lines of what the governor says he’s open to”. She recently hosted a town hall event to get more opinions from constituents.
My personal concern is that Indiana will remain one of the more restrictive states even post legalization (regarding personal cultivation laws, sale of concentrates, zoning limitations, etc.), but anything is a step in the right direction at this point.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.