By Makenna Mays
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Commission to Combat Drug Abuse voted overwhelmingly Thursday to oppose efforts to decriminalize marijuana for medical or recreational use.
The 11-3 vote, with two abstentions, was taken at the commission’s regular meeting, echoing Gov. Eric Holcomb’s opposition to legislative efforts to relax Indiana’s marijuana laws.
“I think it’s really important that we’re talking about the most vulnerable population in this state, that we’re doing what we can to make sure that our young children are not taking edible marijuana and ending up in our emergency rooms and our hospitals,” said Dr. Kristina Box, the state’s health commissioner, after she made the motion.
Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana’s Department of Health commissioner
However, not everyone on the committee agreed that the commission should vote on this issue.
“When I signed up for this commission, I signed up for a particular reason and that was to address the opioid epidemic,” said Sen. Gregory Taylor, D-Indianapolis. “This commission was never tasked with taking a position on marijuana, marijuana is not an opioid.” He was one of the no votes.
The commission took the vote a day after Holcomb was asked whether he would support efforts to relax the state’s marijuana laws. At least one lawmaker has said he will introduce legislation in 2018 to make it legal for medical use while a national veterans’ group is pushing for a study of the issue.
“The FDA is the organization that approves drugs in this country, and they’ve not yet, and so we’re not there in this state,” Holcomb said. “At this time right now, I’m trying to get drugs off the street, not add more into the mix. So, I’m just not supportive of that.”
Meanwhile, state Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, has said he will introduce legislation that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Several medical marijuana bills were filed in the last legislative session and all failed.
Organizations such as the American Legion believe that there is some merit into researching the medicinal value of the drug. Many veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain have told the Veteran’s Administration that their health has improved by using medicinal cannabis.
“We have never endorsed the use of marijuana for recreational or even medicinal purposes,” said John Raughter, communications director at the American Legion. “All we’re saying is we want the VA to do research into the area.”
Currently, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug, which says it has no medicinal value. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, ecstasy and LSD.
“We are saying that we want it to be removed as a Schedule I and be reclassified because we want the VA to study whether or not it has potential medicinal value,” Raughter said.
An independent public opinion research company recently released the results of a nationwide survey of veterans about the use of medical cannabis:
- 83 percent believe the federal government should legalize medical cannabis nationwide,
- 82 percent said they would want to have medical cannabis as a federally-legal treatment option,
- 92 percent support medical research,
- 100 percent aged 18-30 support federally legalized medical cannabis, and
- 79 percent age 60-plus support federally legalized medical cannabis.
At the last American Legion national convention in August, the organization passed a resolution proposing that VA doctors should be able to discuss with veterans the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and recommend it in those states where medical marijuana is legal.
“If a doctor can provide it to a non-veteran outside the VA system in the state because of their state laws, we’re basically saying, you know, that’s something the VA should be able to do as well in cases that’s appropriate,” Raughter said.
The debate over medical marijuana comes as others states have legalized the drug for either medical or recreational use. California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada have already all passed measures legalizing recreational marijuana. It is also legal in Oregon and Colorado.
The debate is also taking place as communities across the state grapple with opioid addiction. State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, is proposing bills for the 2018 legislation that would impose tougher penalties on some drug crimes.
Makenna Mays is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.