Pot or Not? Legalizing marijuana in Indiana
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - Illinois, Michigan, and now Ohio all have legalized the use and sale of recreational marijuana.
Northern Indiana still stands as an island of prohibition, despite 85% of Hoosiers supporting marijuana legalization in some form according to a recent survey from Ball State University.
But some Indiana lawmakers now believe there is strong enough support to potentially pass legislation in the near future.
Just not the immediate future.
South Bend is already within a roughly half hour drive of about a dozen cannabis dispensaries in Michigan, where General Manager of Sunset Coast Provisions in Cassopolis, Joshua Vernon, says it's not uncommon for legal marijuana retailers to make upwards of a million dollars a month.
“Even during covid, where busy businesses were shutting down or reducing, cannabis is one of the few industries that were still opening shops, still hiring, and getting positions out there," Vernon said. "You're seeing all the revenue that Indiana is missing out on.”
While the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency says it doesn’t track the number of customers from out of state; Vernon, who’s worked at other area dispensaries, estimates as many as 60% of cannabis customers in Southwest Michigan are Hoosiers.
"I certainly think the law needs to catch up to reality," Indiana State Rep. Jake Teshka (R-07) said.
Admittedly having used cannabis "as a teenager in high school" (instead opting for "a nice glass of bourbon" now), Teshka supports legalization.
While the Indiana GOP has no official party platform on pot, Governor Eric Holcomb has said he will not sign off on legalization in the Hoosier State until cannabis is legal federally.
"This is increasingly not a partisan issue. It's increasingly a generational one," Rep. Teshka said.
In 2022, none of the 13 marijuana-related bills filed at the beginning of the legislative session even advanced out of committee. This past April, Democratic State Representative Justin Moed used a procedural maneuver on a hemp bill to force a floor vote on cannabis legalization.
57 Republicans and one Democrat voting against, with six Republicans and 29 Democratic representatives voting in favor, including State Representative Maureen Bauer (D-06).
“If we legalize cannabis at the state level, we have the ability to set those regulations and those guidelines as a state," Rep. Bauer said.
According to the 2022 Hoosier Survey from Ball State University, just 15% of Hoosiers want to keep marijuana outlawed, while 29% believe it should be legal for medical use, and 56% support legal personal use.
"I choose not to [use cannabis] but I do hear from my residents that I represent in the state, that they would like the option to have this medical alternative," Bauer said.
ABC57 reached out to the candidates running for Indiana governor in 2024, when Gov. Holcomb will be term limited out of office. Out of the campaigns that responded, only Democratic candidate Jennifer McCormick outright endorsed legalization.
On the Republican side, without giving a solid stance, former Indiana Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers said the issue is worth studying.
"We're creating this industry, an addiction-for-profit industry," John Daviau with anti-cannabis group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) said.
Daviau believes the marijuana industry threatens to become the next big tobacco.
"We have legislators who are all concerned about flavored [e-cigarette] vapes, yet they allow flavored marijuana vapes, or they allow flavored these [marijuana edibles]," Daviau said. "It just doesn't make any sense at all.”
SAM representatives testified in front of Indiana lawmakers during a study committee on the issue of legalization, November 1st. But lawmakers left the statehouse without making any recommendations.
With Holcomb still sitting as governor over a shortened 2024 legislative session starting in January, even advocates believe movement on marijuana legalization isn't likely next year.
But lawmakers like Teshka say there could be the votes to legalize in Indiana under a future administration.
"I think that folks who maybe were reluctant before, to vote for something like this, might find new freedom to do that," Teshka said.
Michigan and Ohio both legalized cannabis through citizen-led ballot initiatives, which Indiana does not allow.
When asked whether there's been interest in ever opening the door to ballot initiatives, Rep. Bauer said there’s probably more support for legalizing marijuana.