OPINION: Time for Indiana to pass the grass, legalize marijuana

Oct. 4—Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced in July that the state had collected more than $445 million in taxes from recreational marijuana sales for the fiscal year, up by over $145 million from 2021.

Illinois law requires a quarter of the tax revenue to be directed to economically distressed communities. Imagine the programs local Indiana communities could launch to address real problems like food and housing insecurity if they were given a few extra million dollars a year and required to spend it on such efforts.

But while neighboring states have legalized or decriminalized recreational and medicinal marijuana use, Hoosier lawmakers have resisted such a move. Gov. Eric Holcomb has signaled that the federal government should decide the issue, a stance held by many Indiana GOP officials.

But a legislative committee meeting held in September provided some hope for legalization, with Republicans including state Rep. Jim Lucas offering their support.

For several reasons, marijuana legalization in Indiana is past due.

The economic benefits are obvious. Beyond the revenue collected from taxes, legalizing marijuana would alleviate some of the strain law enforcement is dealing with and reduce inmate levels in correctional facilities.

With law enforcement agencies struggling to hire enough officers, eliminating the need to police marijuana would free up resources to focus on violent and property crimes that are plaguing many Indiana communities.

Marijuana policing has also unevenly targeted Black people.

According to a 2020 American Civil Liberties Union report, Black people were more likely to be arrested than white people for marijuana possession in every state. The study found that Black people are 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than White people in the U.S.

While smoking marijuana can lead to certain health issues, the U.S. Department of Drug Enforcement confirms there have been no deaths reported as a result of a pot overdose. The same can't be said for alcohol, which is legal nationwide.

Marijuana also has medicinal benefits. Veterans struggling with mental and physical ailments can be aided by marijuana use.

"It's a safer way to heal, let's put it that way," Jeff Staker, head of Hoosier Veterans for Medical Cannabis, told Fox59 News at last month's committee meeting.

Legalizing or at the least, decriminalizing marijuana wouldn't mean lawmakers were advocating for its use. People should be mindful of the mental effects of marijuana and be wary of addiction.

But current law isn't stopping Hoosiers from using marijuana. People can easily drive to Illinois or Michigan to legally purchase pot, similar to how Kentuckians can travel to Indiana to gamble at a casino.

While it would be great if the federal government took the lead on legalizing marijuana, Indiana doesn't have to wait. When legislators convene in January in Indianapolis, they should prioritize the issue. It could truly be a bipartisan victory for the state.