A Republican Indiana lawmaker who serves in House leadership has announced she’ll be introducing a bill to legalize marijuana for both recreational and medical use in the upcoming legislative session.
Rep. Cindy Ziemke (R), who has worked to raise awareness about substance misuse since her sons struggled with addiction, says she recognizes the obstacles of enacting cannabis reform in the conservative legislature. But she’s hoping that leadership will at least allow a committee hearing on her forthcoming proposal.
The measure would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older and set up a regulated system of sales, mirroring neighboring Michigan’s marijuana law. It would also establish a medical cannabis program in the state.
While the text is not publicly available yet, the lawmaker told Indianapolis Business Journal that the bill would create a state commission to regulate the market, issue cannabis business licenses and set a tax on marijuana sales with revenue supporting public health initiatives.
Ziemke says that part of the reason she decided to sponsor the reform legislation is because she believes it will help divert people from the illicit market where they might be exposed to other drugs.
One of her sons, who is eight years in recovery from a heroin addiction, encouraged her to pursue the reform for that reason.
“So much of it also comes from when I called my son and I said, you know, ‘what do you think about me authoring this cannabis bill?’ And he said, ‘You should do it.’ He said, ‘because you know those folks will go to a dealer to get pot and could end up leaving one day with meth,’” Ziemke said. “I want a safe product that’s out there that’s controlled.”
The lawmaker also emphasized the importance of appropriating revenue for public health purposes.
“We are so good at so much. But when it comes to public health, we are horrible,” she said. “So if that would generate monies that could go more into public health for our state, that’s how I envisioned it for both public health and mental health and addiction.”
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The legislator, who serves as assistant majority caucus chair, is also concerned that if Indiana doesn’t move on the issue, it will continue to lose out to surrounding states like Illinois that already have regulated cannabis programs.
The first test for the bill will be getting a hearing in the House Public Policy Committee, where cannabis legislation has historically stalled. And while she hasn’t received any commitments yet, Ziemke said she’s had conversations about the proposal with House Speaker Todd Huston (R), Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R) and the governor, asking them to be open-minded.
Sixty percent of Ziemke’s constituents in her district said they support medical cannabis legalization, according to a 2021 legislative survey that her office conducted.
A statewide 2018 poll that found that about 80 percent of Indianans favor legalizing cannabis for either medical or recreational purposes, and 78 percent agreed that simple possession should be decriminalized.
Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) isn’t supportive of legalization, but he did recently say that he’s on board with having lawmakers pass legislation to set up the regulatory infrastructure for a legal cannabis market in the event that federal prohibition is ended.
Rep. Sue Errington (D) said she is working on a separate bill along the lines of what the governor says he’s open to.
The Indiana Democratic party, meanwhile, is mounting a push for marijuana legalization and calling on state lawmakers to enact the reform.
If the GOP-controlled legislature fails to pass a legalization bill during the 2022 session, the party organization said Democrats are prepared to campaign on the issue, leveraging the popularity of ending prohibition among Indiana voters.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.