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GOP Senate Candidates Debate Medical Marijuana

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Three contenders vying for the Republican nomination for one of Indiana’s U.S. Senate seats discussed medical cannabis at a debate on Sunday night.

“I don’t want a federal government that’s big enough to tackle this problem,” said Congressman Luke Messer. “I think it’s a problem that’s probably best handled at the state level.”

“That’s the reason we need to, from a medical perspective, look at it,” said Congressman Todd Rokita, citing his son Teddy, who has a rare disability. “But we have got to remove THC.”

“I think if a state wants to go to medical marijuana, it ought to be their prerogative,” said former state Rep. Mike Braun. “I’m still out on that issue, but to me, states are a great laboratory. It’s happening right in front of us. We’ll see what happens.”

But even though the candidates varyingly acknowledged cannabis’s medical potential and spoke about letting states lead the way, the two sitting congressman took the opportunity to raise concerns about marijuana.

“At a time when we have an opioid epidemic that’s at crisis levels across our state, I don’t know why we would be opening the door to one of the biggest gateway drugs that could lead to an even bigger crisis,” Messer added.

“I associate with Mr. Messer on that,” Rokita said.

The two U.S. House members have consistently opposed marijuana law reform measures.

Along with Braun, they are vying in the May 18 primary for a chance face incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in November.

Debate moderator Brooke Martin of WISH-TV said cannabis is “one of the most-asked-about questions on our Facebook page.”

The candidates previously discussed marijuana policy at a debate in February.

GOP Senate Candidates Voice Support For Medical Marijuana, But Voted Against It

“If medical marijuana helps, we should let people do it,” Rokita said at the time.

“It’s important that we empower patients, and where there are legitimate medical concerns and someone is legitimately a chronic patients that has a terminal illness and this is helping them, then that is of course one area of policy,” Messer said.

But in Congress, the two have repeatedly voted against amendments to remove the threat of federal arrest, prosecution and incarceration for people who use medical marijuana in accordance with state laws.

Rokita, who entered Congress in 2011, voted three times against measures to prevent the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.

Messer, who has served in the house since 2013, voted against that proposal twice.

The two Indiana GOP lawmakers also voted three times against amendments to let military veterans get medical cannabis recommendation through their Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.

And despite Rokita implying during both debates that he supports allowing access to nonpsychoactive cannabidiol extracts, he and Messer voted against a measure to protect limited state programs allowing such CBD use from federal interference.

As a member of the House from 2007 to 2013, Democrat Donnelly did not have the opportunity to vote on most of the amendments that GOP lawmakers vying to replace him opposed.

However, in 2007 he voted against the measure to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal interference. He was not present during a 2013 roll call vote on the amendment, and also also missed other votes on unrelated issues that took place on the same day.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) gave Donnelly a “D” in its congressional report card, the same grade awarded to Messer and Rokita.

Indiana currently has a limited CBD medical cannabis law.

Two more debates are scheduled between the Republican candidates. For the final one, on April 30, people can submit proposed questions to the Indiana Debate Commission.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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