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Indiana lawmaker backing bill to legalize recreational marijuana

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. Hoosiers, like their neighbors in Michigan, could legally get high medically and recreationally if one state lawmaker has it her way.

State Sen. Karen Talian (D-Ogden Dunes) said she realizes the odds are long that marijuana for both purposes will jointly enter the law books in a conservative state whose governor recently announced his opposition to it. But Talian citing growing nationwide support for ending prohibition of the drug has filed legislation making it legal for an individual to possess up to 2 ounces of recreational marijuana.

She also filed a bill to establish a Cannabis Compliance Commission to help regulate the sale, use and consumption of marijuana and related products. The commission would also be involved in regulating the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil and industrial hemp.

Use of CBD oil and industrial hemp were approved last year without a structure to regulate the products, she said. Talian is behind a third proposal for Indiana to join 33 other states that already have legalized medical marijuana.

She pointed to a recent survey that showed more than eight in 10 Hoosiers favor legalization of either recreational or medicinal marijuana. In Michigan, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2008, 57 percent of voters legalized the use and sale of recreational marijuana in November, under similar terms.

Unlike Michigan, Indiana does not have a ballot initiative for voters to decide the issue. "It's up to the legislature to follow the will of the people," Talian explained.

It appears medical marijuana is gaining enough support to have a chance at passing the Republican-dominated House and Senate, after the measure last year advanced to a legislative study committee to further explore.

State Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores) said he's always been an advocate for medical marijuana, but he wants to know how it would get to the patients, before deciding any vote he might be casting on the matter. He'd prefer medical marijuana be given out at pharmacies, but that isn't possible since it is still illegal under federal law.

On the other hand, Bohacek said recreational marijuana hasn't been studied enough for him to consider any position on it right now. I don't anticipate recreational marijuana becoming legal in Indiana anytime soon, would be my guess," he said.

State Rep. Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie) said his constituents seem divided on medical and recreational marijuana, judging by the feedback he receives. He's heard from people in favor of legalizing both. "I can tell you, people are torn," he noted.

Any bill related to marijuana passing both chambers of the legislature would be vetoed by Gov. Eric Holcomb if he lives up to a recent pledge not to legalize medicinal or recreational marijuana.

"I'm just not willing to look at that, especially since it is illegal right now according to the federal government," he told the Northwest Indiana Times.

Jim Arnold, a Democrat from La Porte who served as state senator for nearly 10 years until 2016, said there are valid reasons to legalize medical marijuana under proper restrictions. Except for generating tax dollars, he doesn't see any other good reason to approve recreational marijuana, given the problems in society from drug and alcohol abuse.

"Let's worry about bringing in good-paying jobs, economic development, infrastructure improvements, benefits for our teachers and spending more money in the classrooms, said Arnold, also a former LaPorte County Sheriff for two terms.