Softer federal stance on marijuana could boost legalization efforts in Indiana

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For years, marijuana advocates in the Indiana Statehouse have filed bills and pushed for hearings on legislation that would allow the drug’s use for medical purposes or open the doors to recreational use and decriminalization.

Their pleas fell on deaf ears for the most part and marijuana-related bills generally suffer the same fate every time, dying in a legislative committee even as nearby states legalize the drug.

Sen. Rodney Pol

But with the federal government’s recent announcement that it intends to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug with potential medical benefits, some advocates wonder if that could be the game changer that opens the floodgates for legalization in the state’s 2025 legislative session.

Some legislators think it will.

“I think it starts the conversation in a completely different plane,” said state Sen. Rodney Pol, a Chesterton Democrat who has filed bills for three straight years that advocated for some form of legalization amid opposition from Republican leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature.

Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray last week said he sees the debate as more relevant if the federal government makes a classification change but hasn’t said if he would be willing to consider any form of legalization.

The Justice Department last week formally moved to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug.


A proposed rule sent to the federal register recognizes the medical uses of cannabis and acknowledges it has less potential for abuse than some of the nation’s most dangerous drugs. The plan approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland would not legalize marijuana outright for recreational use.

The Drug Enforcement Administration will next take public comment on the proposal in a potentially lengthy process.

If approved, the rule would move marijuana away from its current classification as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and LSD. Pot would instead be a Schedule III substance, alongside ketamine and some anabolic steroids.

The move comes after a recommendation from the federal Health and Human Services Department, which launched a review of the drug’s status at the urging of President Joe Biden in 2022.

Plenty of states have decided to not wait for the federal government’s blessing on marijuana legalization, either medically or for recreational use.

But Indiana has stood firm so far in refusing to legalize the drug for either purpose.

Pol said strong public support within the state combined with more Republican state legislators with committee chairmanships interested in legalization in some form could make 2025 a breakthrough year.

“I think this conversation is getting to be too loud to be ignored,” Pol said.

Candidates weigh in on marijuana

A sticking point in recent legislative sessions to get hearings on marijuana-linked bills was Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stance that Indiana should wait until marijuana is federally legalized before considering legalization in the state.

Holcomb’s term ends in January and the two major candidates vying to replace him have indicated they are more open to considering legalization.

Jennifer McCormick

In response to questions from Indiana Lawyer, Jennifer McCormick, Democratic candidate for governor, said that it was time Indiana listened to the majority of Hoosiers and developed a legal, well-regulated cannabis market.

“This opportunity would boost our economy by welcoming an industry proven to add millions of dollars to the state budget, just as 37 other states have demonstrated,” McCormick said in an emailed statement.

Mike Braun

Legalizing medical marijuana would be the first step and carries the benefit of providing doctors one more tool in treating suffering patients. Indiana must take this even further by passing legislation decriminalizing marijuana to support impacted Hoosiers and the criminal justice system.”

The 2022 Hoosier Survey, a poll conducted by Indiana Public Broadcasting and Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, showed more than 85% of the 600 respondents supported marijuana legalization in some form, compared to 15% who said it should be illegal.

Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun, who secured the GOP’s nomination for governor earlier this month, did not respond to Indiana Lawyer’s request for comment.

Braun did tell South Bend’s WSBT 22 in regards to marijuana legalization that “it’s inevitable. Now it’s reaching our own state. It’s been precipitated now to do something more quickly with what the feds have just decided,”

The media outlet reported that Braun said he’s open to medical marijuana, but still needs more time to consider legalizing recreational use.

“I’m going to look at medical for sure. Recreational, I would lean heavily on what our state law enforcement folks think and police in general to make sure we’re not getting ahead of our skis,” Braun said.

Legislation in 2025?

During this year’s short legislative session, there were 10 marijuana-related bills filed in the Indiana House and Senate.

None made it out of committee.

Will there be more bills filed next year? And how many will get a hearing?

The most likely attempt probably will be to consider legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

Justin Swanson

Justin Swanson, a partner with Bose McKinney & Evans LLP and chair of the firm’s Cannabis group, said he felt the federal government’s announcement is an important recognition that there’s medical value to marijuana.

“Medical is the easier sell, politically, because veterans have been vocal for many years,” Swanson said.

Swanson said nationally, medical marijuana comprises around 10% of the adjustable market sales annually for the drug.

He said if the federal government does reclassify the drug, it does strip away the argument, held by Holcomb, that Indiana can’t legalize the drug for any purpose until it was rescheduled.

The attorney added that if medical marijuana legalized, the state should go all the way and legalize recreational use.

Bray, the Senate president pro tem, spoke to the media last week following the Legislative Council, where the committee approved summer study topics.

In response to a question about marijuana, Bray noted that the Legislature had taken a look at the topic in interim study committees for at least the past two years.

Bray called it a topic that, especially if the federal government makes a classification change, is relevant, even if it was not chosen as a summer study topic this year.

“That’s not to say, however, there won’t be some people looking at that over the summer. But I think it’s one of the reasons it didn’t get selected this year. We’ve had a couple of summers of public hearings,” Bray said.

Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo, who co-authored several bills this year related to marijuana legalization or decriminalization, said he thought the federal government’s move was a positive step and could take the argument that the state needed to wait for federal rescheduling of the drug off the table.

Heath VanNatter

In 2023, House Bill 1297, authored by VanNatter, made history by actually getting a legislative hearing. That bill would have decriminalized possession of two ounces or less of marijuana. But it failed to win the Legislature’s approval.

VanNatter intends to author one or two marijuana-related bills in 2025.

The Kokomo legislator said he was hopeful, but not super optimistic, that there would be more movement on marijuana-related bills in the next session than in previous years.

“I think the House will do something before the Senate does,” VanNatter said.

VanNatter said that when it comes to marijuana legislation, it’s more likely that the Legislature starts with decriminalization, creating laws that end the arrests of people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Some legislators are more receptive to bills that would create a state medical marijuana program, VanNatter said.

Pol said he thought both Braun and McCormick would sign any marijuana-linked bills that might hit their desk.

The Chesterton legislator stressed that he thought it would be difficult for either candidate to veto a bill, particularly given the overwhelming public support for legalization.

He, like VanNatter, intends to file at least one bill in the next session related to legalization.

“My intention is to keep fighting for it until our state takes a modern approach to this issue,” Pol said.•

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