The Indiana legislature has proposed a number of bills regarding the legality of marijuana use, possession and sale in the state.
These include the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, the legalization medicinal marijuana, the development regulatory processes for the sale of marijuana and the creation of a defense for someone operating a vehicle who is not intoxicated but has marijuana in their system.
The proposal of these bills comes at a time when all of Indiana’s neighboring states have legalized marijuana in some capacity, according to The Indianapolis Star. Both Illinois and Michigan have legalized recreational marijuana use and Ohio has legalized medicinal marijuana. An executive order put into effect by Kentucky Govenor Andy Beshear on Jan. 1 has partially legalized medicinal marijuana for certain people with one of 21 severe medical conditions.
David Campbell, professor of political science at Notre Dame, said the legalization of marijuana in the surrounding states could have been part of the reason for the creation of these bills.
“Once neighboring states have enacted a policy change it makes it not only a lot easier, but it actually provides a pretty strong rationale within a state to change its policy,” Campbell said. “Think of Indiana, which is bordered by both Illinois and Michigan where marijuana is legal.”
This phenomenon is known as policy diffusion Campbell said. A certain policy will be enacted in a single or small number of states. Policymakers in other states will then enact the same policy.
The legalization of marijuana in Indiana could also be in part due to difficulties with policing marijuana across state borders. Campbell said St. Joseph’s County could be specifically difficult to police because the area is close to both Michigan and Illinois.
There has also been a shift in the mindset regarding the danger of marijuana among citizens and lawmakers. Marijuana was targeted by Nixon administration’s implementation of the War on Drugs, Theodore Beauchaine, a professor of psychology who currently teaches a course called psychology of addiction, said. But as of January 2023, 21 states, Washington, D.C. and Guam have acted to legalize recreational marijuana, according to U.S. News.
This change does not have one identifiable cause. Rather, it could be the result of many reasons, Campbell and Beauchaine said.
“It’s undeniable that [marijuana] is not as damaging as some other drugs. There is such a thing as marijuana addiction, but that affects fewer people,” Beauchaine said.
“People recognize this, and they look and they see what the toll of drinking is on our society, and they can see that it can’t be any worse for marijuana.”
Campbell said the shift in public opinion occurred around the early 2000s when more Americans were claiming to not have any religious affiliation, a factor correlated with views on drugs. Even so, the legalization of marijuana is not something that religious leaders have specifically spoken out on in comparison to other issues, such as same-sex marriage, Campbell said.
Furthermore, such a massive shift in public opinion has forced politicians to reevaluate their positions on marijuana.
“As a political scientist, I’m always inclined to think about what incentives politicians have to push one issue versus another,” Campbell said. “We can only conclude that politicians decided that public opinion was moving so rapidly in favor of legalization of marijuana that there simply wasn’t any political benefit to opposing it.”
Many of these bills were authored by Republicans and have bipartisan support, but Beauchaine and Campbell are skeptical about the bills passing.
Beauchaine said he thinks none of these bills will pass due to the state’s conservative nature. Campbell said there could potentially be a change, specifically on the medicinal front.
“It seems unlikely, just given the political complexion of Indiana that at least in the short term, say in this session or in the next few years, that we would see legalization of recreational marijuana. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Indiana did legalize medicinal marijuana, which is an easier sell for people,” Campbell said.
“If I might coin a term, but in the same way that marijuana is sometimes described as the gateway drug in your high school, you might think of legalization of marijuana for medicinal use to be the gateway to recreational use.”
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