OpEd: Let’s be blunt: It’s time for Indiana to deal with marijuana law

The Indiana Capital Chronicle

The Indiana General Assembly has been hiding from the topic of marijuana for years now. But with the federal government set to ease restrictions, it’s time for lawmakers to tackle the policy debate.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has proposed loosening the illegal status of marijuana at the federal level. Moving marijuana from the government’s list of the most dangerous and least useful substances to a less serious category is a clear signal that the federal government is turning the corner.

Cannabis has been listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act since 1971, even as many states have moved to legalize recreational use for more than a decade and medicinal use for even longer.

State-legal marijuana businesses make up a multibillion-dollar industry, but the illegal status of the drug under federal law creates barriers unseen by other industries, including a lack of access to banking and the inability to deduct business expenses from taxes.

The move to Schedule III would enable a more permissive approach to the drug, including by allowing greater study of medicinal uses and letting related businesses use a common tax deduction.

We know where Hoosiers stand.

Results from Ball State University’s 2023 Hoosier Survey shows 54% of respondents say marijuana should be legal for personal use by adults. In comparison, 32.2% selected “It should be legal for medicinal use.”

Just 9.8% of respondents selected “It should not be legal.”

Those findings generally mirror the year before, as well as many other polls.

Dozens of states have moved down this path. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that as of April 2023, 38 states, three territories and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis products. As of November 2023, 24 states, two territories and the District of Columbia have enacted measures to regulate cannabis for recreational use.

This isn’t new or groundbreaking. We can learn from other states and craft our own path.

Until then we will continue to struggle with situations such as delta-8.

Another quagmire

Congress revived the industrial hemp industry in 2018’s agriculture-focused farm bill by removing the plant and its seeds from the definition of marijuana.It’s generally considered legal as long as it contains less than 0.3% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC, the major psychoactive component in the plant — by dry weight. Above that, it’s considered banned marijuana.

Indiana promptly followed suit. Lawmakers in 2018 legislation used the same delta-9 cutoff in legalizing low-THC hemp extracts, and added more hemp-related regulations in another law the following year.

The state’s delta-8 industry has boomed, as an apparently legal alternative to marijuana.

About 540 Indiana retail stores and nearly 1,400 gas stations have sold about $637 million worth of hemp-based cannabinoid products, according to a 2023 study by hemp-cannabis data firm Whitney Economics. Those sales made a total economic impact of about $1.8 billion, the company found.

But the Indiana State Police, the attorney general and some prosecutors disagree on the law, which has led to a lawsuit.

It seems odd to be writing this since I have never used marijuana — not even a gummy or a college toke. And I certainly don’t want Indiana to reek of the drug like other places that have legalized it.

But I also feel like it’s time to stop avoiding the topic and craft a sensible law. We are surrounded by states that have legalized the drug, which creates its own issues along the border. Most importantly, I would love to see all lawmakers — not just Republicans making decisions in private caucuses — publicly weigh in.

Maybe it would pass. Maybe it wouldn’t. But let’s debate it. Let’s put the votes on the board.

Let’s be blunt: It’s time for Indiana to deal with marijuana law

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