“We in Indiana have been slower to go that direction than states that are surrounding us, as you all know, but we don’t live in a vacuum.”
Casey Smith, Indiana Capital Chronicle
Indiana lawmakers this summer and fall will discuss potential regulations for THC products, as well as possible decriminalization of marijuana.
Whether those deliberations will result in forward momentum is still undetermined as legislation often fails to materialize from these interim meetings.
The public health summer study committee will focus on “delta-8, delta-9, and other THC products regarding potential health benefits, potential decriminalization, and other potential consequences,” according to the agenda approved by legislative leaders from both caucuses.
While lawmakers said total marijuana decriminalization is on the table for debate, they will also explore restrictions around the sale of products like delta-8, including age requirements for purchasing.
Delta-8 is a chemical compound derived from hemp, which was legalized federally in the 2018 Farm Bill and gives users a weaker high than delta-9, the chemical found in marijuana.
“It’s important to inform ourselves on delta-8 and delta-9,” Republican State Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said. “I think a lot of members of the General Assembly aren’t overly familiar with what those products are.”
Bray said he’s not sure what, if any, legislation will come from the committee but believes it’s an important issue to study.
“We in Indiana have been slower to go that direction than states that are surrounding us, as you all know, but we don’t live in a vacuum,” he said. “We have to figure out where we are and this is going to be an important conversation to have this summer for where Indiana moves.”
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb expressed reservations about signing a new cannabis law, saying that until marijuana is federally lawful, “we’re getting ahead of ourselves.”
“I don’t question the potential positive impact it could have, but this needs to be done lawfully,” Holcomb added.
Delta-8 derived from hemp plants is legal to purchase and produce in Indiana, as long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC. Hemp-derived CBD and delta-10 THC are also legal in Indiana.
Hemp flower and delta-8 flower are not legal under state law, however. The same goes for medical and recreational marijuana, which is classified in Indiana code as a controlled substance.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor of Indianapolis said he’s hopeful that the committee’s discussion will sway the Republican supermajority to seriously consider decriminalization, noting it could be a cost-saving move for the state.
“I felt like it was in the wrong committee,” Taylor said. “But if they’re going to discuss it, I’ll be here to provide my input on what we should do.”
The discussions follow an ongoing effort by state Democrats to legalize marijuana in Indiana. They maintain that marijuana legalization could boost the economy and bring more jobs.
Republican legislative leaders have rejected marijuana bills previously, though, arguing that they prefer to wait for federal legalization first.
Lawmakers studied cannabis for medical use in 2018, but pushes for any form of legalization have been unsuccessful.
Of the 11 marijuana-related bills drafted in 2021, only one became law. That law, authored by Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis and sponsored by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, offers a defense for drivers caught with marijuana or its metabolite in their bloodstream, as long as the driver was not intoxicated and didn’t cause an accident.
A separate bill introduced this year sought to ban delta-8, but died in the final days of session.
“We would love to see [lawmakers] find out how beneficial all this stuff is, and use it, potentially, as a pathway for decriminalization and medicinal use,” said Frank Lloyd, a board member at Indiana’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Lloyd pointed to successful reform in Indianapolis, where Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears has remained in support of legalizing cannabis. His office stopped prosecuting cases for simple marijuana possession in 2019—part of an effort to reduce the prison population and allowed police to focus on violent offenders.
Still, statewide decriminalization in the 2023 legislative session is “extremely optimistic, at best,” Lloyd said, given that lawmakers will likely need more time to “get on board.” He’s creating the “Indiana Cannabis Chamber of Commerce” to help bolster lobbying efforts and increase education for lawmakers and the public.
“Realistically, we’re starting the clock for the next two to three years on a decriminalization bill or a medicinal cannabis bill,” he said. “But I think that this is a great beginning.”
State lawmakers meet during the summer and fall months to discuss various top policy issues, gather public input and recommend legislation for the upcoming legislative session. Affordable housing, maternal mortality and education mandates are among the other topics lawmakers are slated to explore ahead of the 2023 General Assembly.
The topics were selected by the Legislative Council, composed of eight members of the Indiana Senate and eight members of the Indiana House of Representatives. The chamber leaders alternate as chair each year.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis/Side Pocket Images.