When it comes to marijuana, Michigan is changing fast, and some in Indiana are taking note.
On Tuesday Michigan voted to become the 10th state to legalize adult-use marijuana, and the next day the subject came up at a meeting of area law enforcement leaders south of the state line. They were concerned about preparing for an uptick in impaired driving in the area.
“People should know law enforcement around here is working together on how to address it,” Dave Wells, commander of the St. Joseph County Drug Investigation Unit, said.
Some marijuana advocates downstate, meanwhile, think Michigan’s legalization could spur Hoosier legislators — maybe within the next year or two — to take action on the issue of medical marijuana, which has gradually gained attention over the last decade.
“It would pass the House floor,” predicted David Phipps, communications director of the Indiana branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Indianapolis. “It’s the Senate where we need to gain a few more votes.”
Others weren’t sure how fast action might come but felt legalization in Michigan and surrounding states could have an effect on the Hoosier state. Illinois and Ohio have medical marijuana, and Kentucky is moving toward a medical program.
“I hope so,” Democratic Indiana Sen. Karen Tallian, of Ogden Dunes, Ind., said.
“It will happen eventually,” she added later.
Tallian, who joined the Senate in 2005 and whose district covers parts of LaPorte and Porter counties, said after she sought early on for the Senate to study state marijuana policy she got dubbed the “marijuana senator.”
Eventually the “conversation” she started on marijuana resulted in sentencing reform that took possession of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor, she said.
In next year’s session, Tallian plans to introduce a bill that would legalize marijuana possession of less than 2 ounces.
She also plans to introduce a bill that would allow use of medical marijuana, and another bill that would create what she calls the Cannabis Compliance Commission, which would oversee state regulation of anything cannabis-related.
Unlike in Michigan and some other states where marijuana programs have been approved by ballot initiative, legal cannabis has to be approved by the General Assembly in Indiana, Tallian said.
She’s seen movement in that direction over the years, albeit gradual. She said it used to be she was the only lawmaker filing marijuana-related legislation, but last session there were more than a dozen such bills filed by legislators.
But many lawmakers remain wary of legalizing medical marijuana in Indiana, as do the governor and attorney general.
An Indiana legislative study committee in October heard testimony about medical marijuana and decided it couldn’t make a recommendation for or against it to the General Assembly. The committee also declined to recommend further study of the issue. Some conservative lawmakers expressed concern that suggesting more study would be a step toward legalizing medical marijuana, the Indianapolis Star reported.
“This has been an inch by inch movement in Indiana and, frankly, I just don’t know why they’re so reticent,” Tallian said.
Republican Rep. Jim Lucas, of Seymour, Ind., at the southern end of the state, is not reticent. He said he’s determined to bring medical and maybe recreational marijuana to Indiana.
“I used to be indifferent,” Lucas said. Then within the past couple of years he began reading up on CBD oil for seizure treatment as legislators studied the issue, and that led to studying cannabis. He even visited Colorado last summer to try marijuana in a state where it’s legal and said he had “the best night’s sleep I ever had.”
What he learned convinced him that marijuana “saves lives” and eases pain with fewer side effects and greater safety than many prescription drugs. He especially favors that remedy for the elderly and, as a former Marine himself, for veterans. He thinks regulating and taxing marijuana makes more sense than continuing to prohibit it. He’d also like to decriminalize low-level possession.
“It’s not a political thing, it’s not a constituent thing,” Lucas said. “It’s simply the right thing.”
Rep. Dale Devon, R-Granger, is one Republican who has reservations about allowing medical marijuana, a top one being that kids might have greater access to a drug that could be a gateway to harder drugs. But he thinks cannabis probably could help cancer patients suffering side effects from chemotherapy, and he said he would be open to hearing law enforcement’s stance on decriminalizing some marijuana offenses.
Meanwhile, area police simply deal with enforcing the law as it exists today, said Wells, the St. Joseph County Drug Investigation Unit commander.
And that means reminding potential users that whatever marijuana — medical or recreational — that they’re allowed to possess or use in Michigan becomes illegal as soon as they cross the state line into Indiana.
Wells doesn’t foresee legal adult-use cannabis in Michigan causing an “explosion of weed” across the border, or any more sobriety checkpoints than police might normally use. Neither does Sgt. Ted Bohner, public information officer with the Indiana State Police Bremen Post.
But Wells does anticipate an increase in impaired drivers, and he said that subject came up Wednesday at a quarterly meeting of area chiefs of police.
Legal adult-use marijuana just to the north raises all kinds of concerns for police, he said, among them violent crime, property crime, youth access to marijuana, even homelessness.
“The big thing is DUIs and people driving impaired,” Wells said.