Hopes for cannabis legalization in 2024 go up in smoke after study committee meeting

Sen. Liz Brown, top row center, speaks during a meeting of the Interim Study Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (Credit: Tom Davies)

Sen. Liz Brown, top row center, speaks during a meeting of the Interim Study Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (Credit: Tom Davies)

Nov 02, 2023

Lawmakers are unlikely to legalize marijuana in the upcoming 2024 legislative session after a committee declined to push for its consideration.

The Interim Study Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, charged with studying the impact of marijuana legalization on workforce impacts and teen use, issued no legislative recommendations after roughly six hours of discussion Wednesday.

The final report from the committee containing legislative recommendations failed to get a majority of votes after three lawmakers left early and four others voted “no,” citing a lack of any marijuana-related recommendations in the report.

Indiana is one of 12 states that has not yet legalized marijuana.

The committee also failed to produce recommendations on other topics it was assigned to study, including artificial intelligence and consumer data privacy.

The “no” votes came from four of the committee’s Democrats. 

“We sat through a whole day of testimony,” said Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis. “We heard the experts that came in and talked, and we’re not prepared to say at least a sentence about cannabis?”

Committee Chair Sen. Scott Baldwin, R- Noblesville, defended the decision.

“I think that is exactly right,” Baldwin said. “We heard a lot of diverging testimony. We heard a lot of competing opinions … If we want to be here until midnight, I don’t think we’ll gain consensus.”

During testimony, backers and opponents of marijuana legalization painted different pictures of the impact such legalization has had in other states by selecting and presenting statistics that backed their positions.

(Credit: Brittney Phan)

Arguments from those in favor of legalization

Supporters of marijuana say concerns about cannabis are better addressed under a regulated market, rather than letting the black market be king in Indiana. 

“Cannabis is already here,” said Katie Wiley, chief legal and chief strategy officer for cannabis company Stash Ventures. “Ignoring cannabis that is already here in the state of Indiana and avoiding a regulated market is not the correct approach.”

Justin Swanson, the chair of the cannabis practice group at Bose McKinney & Evans, pointed to the fact that no state has reversed its decision to legalize marijuana as proof that there isn’t buyer’s remorse. 

“It’s past time we apply Hoosier common sense to a policy area desperate for leadership,” Swanson said. 

Supporters highlighted several statistics:

  • Cannabis legalization has been linked to a decrease in health insurance premiums. Fewer people are drinking and driving, said Keith Johnson, an Indiana NORML board member.
  • There is no strong evidence that cannabis use disorder is higher in regulated states or that cannabis use decreases workplace productivity, said Ari Kirshenbaum, a senior behavioral scientist from Cannabis Public Policy Consulting. (While the consulting firm does not take a stance on legalization, the group was invited to share information by Swanson).
  • A majority of studies show that adult marijuana legalization is not associated with any change in youth use of cannabis, Kirshenbaum said. 

Arguments from those opposed

Those who are opposed to marijuana legalization highlighted concerns about the increasing potency of marijuana and fears that it would lead to more youth use. 

“We have lots and lots of pot shops in [Colorado],” said Luke Niforatos, executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “If we don’t think that adults using this openly in a normalized way sends a message to our kids, I think we’re fooling ourselves.” 

Ashton Eller, the vice president for health care policy and employment law at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is opposed to recreational marijuana because it worries about the impacts on the workforce. 

“If it is inevitable, let’s be the last one, because on this issue time is on our side.” Eller said. “The longer we wait, the more data we can obtain.”

Opponents also noted some statistics:

  • Employees who tested positive for marijuana have more industrial accidents, more injuries and greater rates of absenteeism, one study found
  • A majority of cities and towns in Michigan, California, Colorado and Oregon have opted out of allowing legal marijuana sales despite state-wide legal status, Niforatos said.
  • The percent of employees testing positive for marijuana has increased at a higher rate in states where the substance is legal than in states where it is illegal, he said.

What’s next?

Lawmakers can still file legislation on the topic even without recommendations to do so from the study committee. Still, the lack of consensus from the committee shows that the General Assembly is far from agreement on marijuana legalization, making its passage even less likely. 

For years, Gov. Eric Holcomb and legislative leaders have pushed back on legalization, citing concerns about both its legality at the federal level and the potential impact on public safety and health. 

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Header image: Sen. Liz Brown, top row center, speaks during a meeting of the Interim Study Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (Credit: Tom Davies)