NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Indiana should stand its ground against legalizing marijuana

There are advantages to being a conservative state with a supermajority of Republicans controlling the Legislature. One we can think of is that Indiana may avoid the trend toward legalizing marijuana — at least for now.

The Associated Press reported recently that Republican Statehouse leaders are firmly against taking any steps during the upcoming legislative session toward legalizing marijuana use in Indiana. News-Sentinel.com supports their position.

While nearly two-thirds of states have legalized marijuana, according to the AP report, mainly for medical uses, federal health officials issued a warning in August that smoking the drug is dangerous for adolescents, pregnant women and their developing babies.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he is opposed to legalizing marijuana as long as the federal government classifies it as a dangerous drug and the leaders of the Legislature back him.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who was a former Indiana state health commissioner, has said marijuana may affect brain development in teens and that their frequent marijuana use is associated with changes in parts of the brain involved with attention, memory, decision-making and motivation.

And the use of products containing THC, the ingredient that provides a high in marijuana, has been linked to a vaping illness that has killed at least 52 people across the country. About 2,400 hospitalizations have been reported in the U.S. this year, with some of the highest rates in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The AP story quoted Indiana Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville saying he doesn’t see any value in allowing marijuana use when lawmakers are considering raising the legal age for smoking cigarettes from 18 to 21.

“The idea of then legalizing a different kind of cigarette doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Bray told AP. “I don’t think it works very well for the productivity of our citizens in the workplace, so you’re going to see me very hesitant to go there.”

A poll by Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs last year found about 80 percent of Indiana adults favor use of medical marijuana, while 40 percent support legal recreational use. Only 16 percent back a total ban. The poll showed more support among Democrats than Republicans for allowing recreational use, and about one-fifth of Republicans said no marijuana use should be legal.

It was reported last month from new data from the Pew Research Center that two-thirds of Americans say marijuana use should be legal. Only 32 percent oppose legalization, a plunge of 20 percent over the past decade. The breakdown in support of legalization is 78 percent among Democrats and 55 percent among Republicans.

A separate question by Pew researchers was used to help determine whether Americans support or oppose recreational marijuana and/or medical marijuana. They found 59% wanting it legal for both purposes, up 10 percent since 2016; 32 percent favored medical use only; 8 percent said it should not be legal at all, down from 15 percent in 2016.

The Pew survey showed the public’s preferences on marijuana are well to the left of current policy. Federal law makes marijuana illegal for all purposes. But 11 states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana and most others have some form of medical marijuana law.

The pressure has increased on Indiana to follow suit since recreational marijuana sales won approval in Michigan and Illinois and with medical use being allowed in Ohio.

News-Sentinel.com believes the tide of support across the U.S. for legalizing the drug should not be an impetus for our lawmakers to open the floodgates to what could lead to legal recreational use of a potentially mind-altering substance.

AP reports the county prosecutor for Indianapolis has stopped pressing criminal charges against adults for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, while Lake County Council endorsed an ordinance Tuesday that would give sheriff’s deputies the discretion to write a $50 to $250 ticket for possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana, instead of taking someone to jail.

The reasoning behind these moves includes lack of jail space to house marijuana offenders, and the fact that cases bog down the criminal justice system. And the effects of lesser fines include that they would give law enforcement officers more flexibility.

While we oppose legalization of marijuana, we think the steps in Indianapolis and Lake County may at least have the right idea in tempering enforcement of the law.


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