THE LAST WORD: Indiana should not follow Michigan’s lead from medical to recreational pot

Kerry Hubartt

Should Hoosiers be concerned that the legalization of medical marijuana in our state will be considered by legislators during the current session of the General Assembly in Indianapolis?

Medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan in 2008. Last November, voters approved the recreational use of marijuana in their state for adults 21 and older, becoming the 10th state — first in the Midwest — to do so.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says 33 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico have passed public medical marijuana programs.

Democrat Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, has filed medical marijuana legislation in the Senate previously. But this is the first year Democrats, as a whole, have put it on their agenda, according to The Indianapolis Star.

Whether the proposal gets anywhere this year or not is uncertain, because it hasn’t gained much traction in the past. A legislative interim study committee met following the 2018 session to hear testimony and discuss the future of medical marijuana in Indiana, the first time the legislature has ever discussed the possibility of legalization. But the committee’s efforts resulted in no decisions on how to proceed, if at all.

House Bill 1384, authored by Republican Rep. Jim Lucas of Seymour, is among bills filed for this session. Lucas also filed a bill last year. HB 1384 would permit the use of medical marijuana by persons with serious medical conditions as determined by their physician. And while the reasoning behind the use of marijuana for this purpose and the detailed safeguards and restrictions in the bill for everything from the drug’s cultivation to its dispensing and use may seem reasonable, there are other things to consider.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar has made his organization’s resistance to such a bill part of its 2019 legislative agenda, insisting, according to a report by PBS affiliate WFYI in Indianapolis, that legalized medical marijuana leads to decreased worker productivity and safety concerns.

“The Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana for any valid medical purpose,” Brinegar told WFWI.

House Speaker Brian Bosma also opposes the bill.

“I’m not a fan personally, because I think it leads directly to recreational marijuana,” Bosma told the Indianapolis Star. “And I just don’t think that’s a positive step for young people in our state. I’ve talked to legislators where both medical and recreational marijuana have been legalized, and they’re dealing with problems in their middle schools and grade schools that would not have otherwise occurred, but for the legalization.”

That would be the case in Colorado, one of the 10 states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. John Stonestreet of the Colson Center based in Colorado wrote that for all the promises of tax revenues being generated for education due to sales of the drug, one school superintendent stated, “So far, the only thing that the legalization of marijuana has brought to our schools has been marijuana.”

While advocates say marijuana is a medicine, not an intoxicant, and that legalization can slow the opioid epidemic, Stonestreet referenced a recent New York Times op-ed that says that’s not true. Former New York Times pharmaceutical reporter Alex Berenson’s piece, entitled “What Advocates of Legalizing Pot Don’t Want You to Know,” quotes an American Journal of Psychiatry study that shows “that people who use cannabis are more likely to start using opioids later.”

Furthermore, Berenson writes, the National Academy of Medicine reports that using pot “is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”

Yes, we should be concerned about the prospect of legalizing medical marijuana in Indiana because it will be considered a victory for proponents of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the future.

Rep. Lucas says, “The genie is out of the bottle” in regard to the legalization of pot. “This conversation is going to continue moving forward. I’m going to make it my mission.” In his testimony before the Legislature, he said he tried as much marijuana as he could in Colorado to see whether it was dangerous. It was the “best night sleep I’ve ever had,” he said.

So beware! Once, as he says, the genie is out of the bottle in legalizing medical marijuana, the likelihood of it becoming legal for recreational use could increase.

Fort Wayne Republican State Senator Liz Brown told the Star that in this process “all we’re doing is setting up so we can sell pot.”

That sounds like a bad idea.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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