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Puff-puff-pass? Indiana abstains as legal weed comes to the Midwest

| Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Some see it as the latest sign of communal decadence and immorality. For others, it’s the coming of a toker’s paradise, a slice of heaven on earth that only a few years ago seemed impossible. Then there’s the investors and politicians, rubbing their hands gleefully in wait of a fat payday to line their pockets or emaciated budget coffers.

For better or worse, legal pot is coming to the Midwest in 2020. That’s when Illinois and Michigan will becomes the first states in the region to open recreational marijuana businesses. Even though Michigan went legal before Illinois, after voters approved a ballot referendum in November, 2018, the Land of Lincoln seems to have gotten their stuff together before our neighbors to the North. Illinois promises the first fully approved dispensaries will open their doors Jan. 1

Meanwhile, Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency is saying theirs will be up and running “the first quarter of 2020” or maybe even sooner. It’s a somewhat-vague timeline that could easily mean the next two weeks or all the way until March. That recreational pot shops will open this year is doubtful, though, given that the Great Lakes state only just started reviewing applications Nov. 1, and apparently state officials are worried about a shortage of product in the market. In any case, more than half of Michigan’s cities, villages and towns have opted out of the legal weed shindig. But the city council of Niles, which is a mere 20-minute drive from Notre Dame, just voted last month to allow recreational marijuana businesses, reversing an earlier — and much lambasted — decision to ban it.

So what about Indiana? Can we expect the Hoosier State to legalize Kush, Purple Haze and the many other varieties of that “real sticky icky icky,” as Snoop Dog once put it, anytime soon? Or, to quote South Bend Tribune columnist Brian Howey, will we remain the “middle finger of Midwestern marijuana prohibition?” 

Well, according to the polls, folks in Indiana aren’t ready for recreational Mary Jane. A 2018 survey by Ball State University found that only 39% of respondents thought recreational should get the green light. Medical, though, seems to have more support: A 2016 WHTR/Howey Politics poll found much higher support for doctor-prescribed weed, at 73%. Indiana lawmakers, for their part, have shown little love for legalizing bud. Until last year, Republican Governor Eric Holcomb was firmly against both recreational and medical. He softened his stance on the latter, saying he was “open-minded” to supporting medical, but only if the federal government lifted its prohibition, a development unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

To boot, Holcomb has also said in interviews he doesn’t think much of the potential tax streams legal weed could bring. Recent history also seems to portend an Indiana that will steer clear of recreational pot. As Howie points out, Indiana refused to copy its neighboring states in lowering the drinking age to 18 or 19 during the brief period in the 1970s when apparently that was a thing. So it looks like Hoosiers won’t be getting on that toker train in the foreseeable future. Not legally, anyway.

Now for the million-dollar question: How will legal weed in neighboring Michigan and Illinois affect Domerland? Can we expect to see giggly undergrads with red eyes and monstrous appetites ambling from class to class? Will Bob Marley, the Grateful Dead and their musical offspring suddenly surge in popularity and dominate the respectable pages of The Observer’s Scene section? And, most importantly, might hoodies emblazoned with perky little flowerbuds become a staple of student body fashion?

Maybe for the first few months of legal pot a bit of Reefer Madness will set in, at least in certain corners of campus life. But a larger cultural shift is unlikely, given that most students live under the watchful eyes of rectors, RAs and Touchdown Jesus. You also have to be 21 to buy and legally consume recreational marijuana, putting a drag on pothead demographic growth at Notre Dame. And truthfully, the students here aren’t the most rambunctious or risk-prone to begin with. 

Knowing the administration, they’ll cross their “t”s and dot their “i”s when it comes to enforcing policy, turning you out if they catch you burning. So think twice before sparking up in or around campus, particularly if you’re underage and living that student housing life. There’s only so many people willing to Febreze the hall outside your door or play lookout when you decide to hotbox your dorm room. Especially if you’re not sharing.

Oliver Ortega is a Ph.D. student specializing in Latinx Literature and Politics. Originally from Queens, NY, he has called the Midwest home for almost a decade. Through boundless cynicism he keeps trying. Reach him at [email protected] or @ByOliverOrtega on Twitter.

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