Indiana Democratic lawmakers came up with a crafty way to force a House vote on marijuana legalization on Thursday after Republican leadership has blocked the issue from being considered in session after session, though the chamber ultimately rejected the reform.
The House took up Senate Bill 20—legislation concerning rules for businesses that sell alcohol and hemp products—on second reading. Part of what the measure would do is create a regulatory distinction for “craft hemp” products that could be marketed to adults 21 and older.
Rep. Justin Moed (D) tried to expand the bill with an amendment proposing to strike language defining hemp as cannabis containing no more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight, which is also the federal definition of legal hemp.
By removing that language, the legislation would have effectively served as a vehicle for marijuana legalization, simply replacing the regulations for the sale of craft hemp, including flower, with cannabis of any THC level.
“We’ve had a really hard time getting an up-or-down vote on the issue,” Moed told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Thursday. “So the way it was drafted was done in a way that they would not be able to use the rules to prevent us from having to vote on it, which is what they’ve been doing up to this point.”
“We had to just basically expand what they were doing with craft hemp, as opposed to doing a direct legalization bill or amendment dealing with that because they would just rule it out of order and prevent us from having an up-or-down vote,” he explained.
Six Republicans joined all but one Democrat in supporting the amendment, the representative noted.
“Time and time again, we are blocked from casting a vote on cannabis reform in IN. Today, thanks to some creativity from House Dems, we finally got a vote,” Rep. Blake Johnson (D) said in a Twitter post on Thursday. “If you want to know who is actually for and who is against cannabis in Indiana, the record is now clear.”
Here's the roll call for Amendment #1. pic.twitter.com/q3rPfhppLv
— Blake Johnson (@IndyBlakeJ) April 6, 2023
Advancing marijuana reform has proved challenging in the Indiana legislature, where Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers.
A bill to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of cannabis received a hearing in February, but it’s not expected to move any further this session.
Measures to legalize and regulate adult-use marijuana were pre-filed for the 2023 session, but they have not received committee consideration yet.
Rep. Cindy Ziemke (R) said late last year that she planned to introduce a legalization bill, but the then-assistant majority caucus chair resigned at the end of the last session.
At the beginning of the year, former Indiana Sen. Jim Merritt (R) recognized the challenges of pushing the issue forward in the legislature and advocated for legislation to at least form a commission tasked with studying legalization.
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Even if a legalization bill did make it out of the conservative legislature, it would likely face resistance from Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), who said earlier this year that he can’t support the reform as long as it remains federally prohibited.
That said, he’s expressed support for expanding marijuana research and some level of openness to simple decriminalization.
Moed said that Democrats would continue to work to advance marijuana reform, and he’d support having a conversation about starting with decriminalization if Republicans were willing to take it up seriously.
“I think those of us in the Democratic caucus, we believe we need to take action in some way—and we’re open, certainly, to whatever compromises and negotiating we have to do to get the ball move forward,” he said. “But we certainly just don’t believe that people who are seeking medical relief or have very low amounts of cannabis product for whatever reason— whether it’s mental health or veterans—no one should be a criminal for doing that.”
“I think that this today was an effort to try to kind of give those people a voice in the legislature because it’s been stifled up to this point,” he said. “And, unfortunately, when put to a full vote, even a lot of people who said they were for it didn’t take the vote.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.