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Indiana resisting marijuana trend of neighboring states

Indiana’s Republican Statehouse leaders are firmly against taking any steps toward following neighboring states in legalizing marijuana use during the upcoming legislative session.

Posted: Dec 16, 2019 9:59 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s Republican Statehouse leaders are firmly against taking any steps toward following neighboring states in legalizing marijuana use during the upcoming legislative session.

They might not be able to avoid talking about it during the 2020 election campaign.

Indiana lawmakers have not seriously debated proposals such as allowing medical marijuana or removing the threat of jail time for possessing small amounts of the drug, even as recreational marijuana sales have won approval in Michigan and Illinois and medical use is allowed in Ohio.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb says he'll remain opposed as long as the federal government classifies marijuana as a dangerous drug, and the leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature back him.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville said he doesn’t see the value of allowing marijuana use at the same time lawmakers are considering raising the legal age for smoking cigarettes from 18 to 21.

“The idea of then legalizing a different kind of cigarette doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Bray said. “I don’t think it works very well for the productivity of our citizens in the workplace, so you’re going to see me very hesitant to go there.”

Advocates of legalization steps say they sense growing support in Indiana — and signs exist for that.

A poll last year by Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs found about 80% of Indiana adults favoring medical marijuana use and 40% supportive of legal recreational use, with just 16% backing the total ban.

Since then, the county prosecutor for Indianapolis has stopped pressing criminal charges against adults for possessing about one ounce or less of marijuana and officials in Lake County, which borders Chicago and is the state’s second-most populous county, are considering whether to give sheriff's deputies the discretion to write a $50 to $250 ticket for small levels of marijuana, instead of taking someone to jail.

Republican state Attorney General Curtis Hill, another opponent of marijuana legalization, denounced both steps and called the Indianapolis decision “a curious strategy to put out a welcome mat for lawbreakers.”

Marijuana legalization looms as a likely campaign issue for the 2020 statewide elections.

The three Democrats seeking to challenge Holcomb’s reelection bid — state Sen. Eddie Melton of Gary, former state health commissioner Woody Myers and tech business executive Josh Owens — all support allowing some level of marijuana use, although Myers opposes recreational sales.

One of the Legislature’s most prominent legal marijuana advocates, Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian of Odgen Dunes, is in the 2020 attorney general’s race and plans to again file a bill to strip possible prison sentences for possession of small marijuana amounts for the legislative session that begins in early January.

“I think anybody who’s running who’s totally against this is running against the wind,” Tallian said. “... What I absolutely am fighting for is that we no longer saddle these people with criminal records. That’s always been my very first priority.”

Marijuana legalization is a topic where Democrats can distinguish themselves from Republicans next year and could help them attract supporters who otherwise might not vote, said Charles Taylor, the managing director of Ball State’s Bowen center.

The 2018 Ball State poll found stronger support among Democrats than Republicans for allowing recreational use, but just about one-fifth of Republicans said no marijuana use should be legal.

“It’s not like some of these issues where it is a small majority, and then you look, and one party is way in favor of something and the other is not,” Taylor said. “There is a lot of support across party affiliation.”

Nearly two-thirds of states have legalized marijuana, mainly for medical uses, even though federal health officials issued a new warning in August that smoking the drug is dangerous for adolescents, pregnant women and their developing babies.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, a former Indiana state health commissioner, said science shows that for teens marijuana carries a risk of affecting brain development, which continues in their 20s. Frequent marijuana use by teenagers is associated with changes in parts of the brain involved with attention, memory, decision-making and motivation.

Health officials have also linked a vaping illness that has killed at least 52 people across the country to products containing THC, the ingredient that produces a high in marijuana. Some 2,400 hospitalized cases have been reported nationally this year, with some of the highest rates in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Michigan’s handful of licensed recreational marijuana shops first opened to long lines of customers on Dec. 1 and reported about $1.6 million in sales during the first week. Illinois starts allowing recreational sales in January.

Indiana lawmakers realize that presents a dilemma regarding a drug for which state law makes possession of any amount a potential felony with a maximum sentence of three years in prison, although no resolution appears at hand.

“We’re in the process of getting surrounded by states that have either medical or recreational marijuana,” said Bray, the Republican Senate leader. “Whether we want it or not, that’s going to have a very direct impact on the state because people bring it across state lines easily, people driving under the influence of it. We’re going to have to figure out how we are going to react to that. We can’t just be in a vacuum.”

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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 150664

Reported Deaths: 4008
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion24697784
Lake13220352
St. Joseph8877159
Elkhart8469132
Allen7880222
Hamilton5962113
Vanderburgh559360
Tippecanoe354714
Monroe320738
Hendricks3183130
Johnson2995128
Porter297848
Clark285461
Delaware282074
Vigo252637
Madison229593
Cass222021
LaPorte215557
Warrick188464
Kosciusko176823
Floyd174867
Howard158866
Bartholomew139758
Dubois135125
Marshall132526
Henry122628
Grant120939
Wayne119327
Boone118848
Hancock114145
Noble113533
Jackson108713
Morgan92240
Dearborn91628
Daviess84033
Gibson83411
Clinton81616
Shelby79429
Lawrence78534
LaGrange76715
Harrison74024
Putnam71016
Knox70310
DeKalb69411
Posey6796
Steuben6008
Fayette58517
Miami5845
Montgomery57222
White56815
Jasper5624
Greene51837
Scott50813
Decatur49839
Adams4725
Clay4346
Whitley4316
Sullivan42812
Ripley4228
Wells4155
Starke3937
Wabash3919
Orange38725
Huntington3785
Spencer3706
Franklin36525
Jennings36013
Washington3592
Randolph3398
Fulton3362
Jefferson3305
Pike31913
Carroll31413
Perry29514
Jay2876
Fountain2863
Tipton26823
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Newton21811
Vermillion2181
Rush2044
Owen2021
Martin1950
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Brown1303
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Union1040
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Warren751
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