After long medical marijuana hearing, lawmakers make no recommendation

Legislators halted any progress of legalizing medical marijuana in Indiana on Thursday after a study committee failed to agree on how to move the issue forward.

The Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavioral Health and Human Services heard several hours of testimony from medical professionals, legislators and citizens on both sides. But by the end of the meeting, no further recommendations had been made.

House Resolution 2 author Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said the issue has been up for debate long enough.

“We need to go where the facts take us as a state,” Lehman said. “We can’t continue down the path of doing nothing.”

Those in favor of the legalization argued cannabis could benefit Hoosiers suffering from chronic illness, mental health disorders, PTSD and other conditions. Proponents also contended the drug could serve as an alternative to more addictive medications contributing to the state’s opioid epidemic.

After serving as a Marshall County prosecuting attorney for nearly 40 years, Nelson Chipman said his life changed forever when he discovered a cancerous lump in his neck in 2017. 

He was prescribed narcotics oxycodone and morphine alongside his radiation and chemotherapy, but quickly started looking for safer alternatives.

“As a prosecutor, I learned long ago of the incredibly addictive power of opioids,” he said. When he came across medicinal cannabis, Chipman thought he found an answer.

“I discussed it with my doctors and their responses were unanimous, so much so that they would recommend the treatment if they could. But they’re all licensed in Indiana and have no access to cannabis,” Chipman said. “It was as if this phase of my treatment was determined more by my ZIP code than my white blood cell counts.”

Currently, 31 states have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, including Indiana’s neighbors Illinois, Ohio and Michigan. But opponents argued that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and continues to be a gateway drug for teens.

Arizona addiction psychiatrist Ed Gogek stressed the damaging effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain, saying that he sustained harm from smoking pot as a teen.

Ally Dir of Indiana University School of Medicine and Drug Free Indiana agreed. She said states that pass favorable cannabis laws increases teens access to recreational marijuana.

Other opponents included representatives from the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, Attorney General’s Office, Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Drug Free Marion County.

Dave Powell of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council said in a statement that legalization is the wrong move for Indiana.

“Despite claims to the contrary, the legalization of marijuana could further exacerbate Indiana’s opioid epidemic,” the statement reads. “Additional studies have concluded that people simply do not substitute marijuana for other drugs.”

Both sides did agree on the need for continued research and rigorous study on the use of medical marijuana before any permanent decisions are made for the Hoosier state.

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, suggested Indiana rely on best practices from other states that have legalized the drug. The legislator said he had a positive experience after trying cannabis during a visit to Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal. He is now a strong proponent of making the drug legal in Indiana.

“We need to move forward,” Lucas said. “I give you my word, I am committed to making this happen.”

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