In last year’s legislative session, a bill was proposed to the Indiana General Assembly to legalize the use of medical marijuana. The bill failed to get a hearing in 2017. However, Republican State Representative Jim Lucas, one of the bill’s authors, said he has high hopes that the bill will pass this year.
The bill permits the cultivation, dispensing and use of medical marijuana without discrimination against or harassment of medical marijuana users. The bill is co-authored by Lucas, Democrat State Representative Sue Errington, Democrat State Representative Charles Moseley and Republican State Representative Sean Eberhart.
According to Lucas, those who hold a medical marijuana card would be exempt from drug testing for marijuana, like any other prescription. In Lucas’ legislation, he said prescribing medical marijuana would be on a doctor-patient basis and there would be no state regulations on who can and cannot be prescribed the substance.
“My legislation left it up to the doctor,” Lucas said. “If the patient can benefit from it, then the doctor wrote a recommendation, and the patient would get a medical cannabis license and then go to the dispensary. And from there, the dispensary can determine what strain can be best and what amount.”
The inspiration behind the bill came after Lucas began researching cannabis. Lucas said he used to be indifferent to the use of medical marijuana, but through his research on CBD, he began discovering the benefits of marijuana.
“I discovered all the many, countless, incredible benefits of cannabis,” Lucas said. “I’ve become an advocate and this is my mission now.”
Lucas said he hopes to lessen the effects of the opioid epidemic with the legalization of medical marijuana. According to health.harvard.edu, pain control is the most common reason why people in the United States use medical marijuana. Most prescription opioids also are used for pain control, according to drugabuse.gov.
Lucas said he hopes that by legalizing medical marijuana will reduce the number of opioid-related deaths in Indiana, especially considering the opioid crisis that Indiana is currently facing now. According to Lucas, the states that have legalized medical marijuana, have seen a 25 percent decrease in deaths caused by opioids; some states have even seen a decrease as high as 50 percent.
“That alone, right there, is reason enough to bring it [medical marijuana] to Indiana,” Lucas said. “And considering that Indiana had, 1,800 overdose deaths last year, that’s 450 Hoosier lives that could have been saved had we adopted [this], and possibly more. We could pass all the laws we want, but people who are intent on putting needles in their arms or overdosing on drugs or drinking alcohol—people that are going to abuse themselves are going to find a way. But we have a moral obligation to reduce that to the most reasonable point possible.”
Lucas said he believes the bill would be a tremendous benefit to Hoosiers. Assistant Professor of Political Science Laura Merrifield Wilson said she agrees and said that passing the bill would be revolutionary. However, she said she believes the bill will also be extremely controversial because Indiana is such a conservative state. Wilson said she thinks that it will be hard to pass the bill in the legislative session in January.
“I’m surprised that I live in a lifetime where states have legalized it—and it used to be very politically unpopular topic,” Wilson said. “…So we’ve radically changed over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes. And I don’t think Hoosiers aren’t impervious to this. We can change our ideas to this, too, but I don’t think this will happen overnight.”
Wilson said she believes that Lucas will need support from the public and fellow representatives to pass the bill. She also said that medical marijuana could be a step in the direction of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Lucas said he hopes to push for recreational use and decriminalize marijuana in the future if medical marijuana passes the legislature this year. He also said an expungement clause would be included in his future legislation for those who were convicted of a crime involving marijuana.
“If it becomes recreational, and it’s no longer a crime to use it, there would be no reason to make people criminals,” Lucas said.
However, he said this would only be if he can push the House to legalize medical marijuana first. Education and public support are only a couple of things Lucas needs in order to pass the bill. As far as political capital, Lucas said he is willing to go all the way for the bill.
“It’s going to be a battle and I’m under no pretenses that it’s going to be easy,” Lucas said. “But it’s one of those fights that’s very well worth fighting.”