The majority of the Hoosier State’s citizens are being left unheard. So far.
As a conservative-leaning state, Indiana’s legislature is dominated by Republicans who have so far failed to pass any measure concerning the lessening of penalties or legalization of medical marijuana (MMJ). Such as measure SB 284, a compassionate medical marijuana bill championed by Senator Karen Tallian last year that would have made MMJ accessible to those suffering certain illnesses. It didn’t even receive a public hearing.
This is while 53 percent of Hoosiers support the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana, and 78 percent support the taxing of marijuana like cigarettes, according to a Bowen Center for Public Affairs survey.
The good news is that bills SB 275 and SB 278, which would have increased the already-harsh penalties, didn’t pass either.
This year, several new bills have been introduced that aim to pick up where the failed legalization bills left off, and with Indiana’s struggling economy at stake, GOP lawmakers are starting to see the appeal in the legalization of cannabis and hemp production.
“What we have seen within the GOP in Indiana is a real paradigm shift away from the Reefer Madness-type portrayal of marijuana and marijuana users towards one of competition and economics,” said JC Franco, Director of the group ReformIndiana, according to the National Report. “It only makes sense for a state like Indiana to embrace such reforms. The fed has been subsidizing Indiana farmers for decades, growing corn that is processed into high fructose corn syrup and fed to us at every turn. This new legislation will allow a certain number of farmers to apply for permits to convert their corn farms into industrial hemp operations. Indiana is the perfect place for growing, processing and manufacturing hemp-related products. By taking this bold move, Indiana could see a large boom in jobs as outside groups rush to get in on the ground floor of the hemp industry.”
In 2014, Governor Mike Pence signed into law SB 357, another bill championed by Sen Karen Tallian, which would legalize the production of agricultural hemp.
“This could be the biggest jobs bill all session,” Sen. Tallian said to the Courier-Journal. Still, because hemp production is still federally illegal with few exceptions, they await approval from the federal government.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tallian introduced another MMJ bill, SB 209, to the 2016 legislative session that would fully legalize medical marijuana. Saying she would rather join the states where cannabis is fully legalized, but there is enough evidence to suggest MMJ should be allowed on a doctor’s recommendation, according to Indiana Public Media. But she’s not optimistic, saying she expects heavy pushback from state senators and Gov. Pence, and, again, doubts the bill will get a public hearing.
"The bill sets down some suggested conditions,” Sen. Tallian said. “I put in the ones that I know about. If the bill would ever get a hearing, we might have a discussion about whether some of those should be in or out."
While the senate decides on Sen. Tallian’s bills, another bill filed by Indiana Senate Agricultural Committee Chair Jean Leising, SB 72, may have a better chance of passing. Leising’s bill would grant prosecution immunity to doctors running trials on the efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) in the treatment of children with seizures. According to the Courier-Journal, SB 72 could be signed into law as early as July of this year. CBD is a compound in cannabis that many believe claims the most medical benefits.
Indiana is a battleground state for the passage of meaningful cannabis reform. With some of the most draconian penalties for possession (one could go to jail for up to a year and get a $5,000 fine for possession of a single joint), no available medical marijuana for patients, and a senate controlled by social conservatives, reform may be a few years down the road. However, one church is fighting back.
The First Church of Cannabis, founded by Bill Levin, is taking advantage of Indiana’s new religious objections law, and filed a lawsuit against the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana in 2015.
“We are taking legal action today to ensure love has no barriers in our land,” Bill Levin said at a news conference. “Today, we invite the state of Indiana and all its leaders to joyfully meet us in a court of law for clarifications on our core religious values. We look forward to engaging them on the high plane of dignity and discipline, with love and compassion in our hearts, to find a swift and sensible answer for our questions of religious equality.”
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