GOSHEN — Local police and prosecutors anticipate potential rises in cases of OWI, drug possession and other crimes in northern Indiana as Michigan moves to legalize marijuana for personal use.
Voters in Michigan passed a measure on Election Day to allow possession and retail sales of marijuana in the state. The new law is expected to take effect Dec. 6 after state election officials certify the results of the election Monday, making Michigan the first state in the Midwest and the 10th state overall to make pot legal on a recreational level.
Marijuana possession will be allowed on Day 1, but approving and licensing new retail establishments won’t begin until next year.
As Michigan decriminalizes the use of the drug, Indiana’s stance hasn’t changed. Police and prosecutors won’t hesitate to enforce state law if a person who purchased marijuana legally in Michigan possesses it illegally in Indiana.
“If somebody wants to go to Michigan and do what is legal there, I can’t stop that. But their primary obligations to their family and the safety of their fellow neighbors and people in my county, I can stop that,” said Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker.
“If anyone believes that there’s a justification for their ability to transport it from Michigan into Indiana, they still have to realize it’s the law here,” said Assistant Goshen Police Chief Shawn Turner.
“The state line is going to be a big difference from one state to the other now,” said Indiana State Police Sgt. Ted Bohner. “It’s going to be people’s personal responsibility to know where they’re at and what they have.”
Bohner doesn’t expect state police procedures to change — the department won’t “have to rewrite our playbook,” as he put it — since he said troopers already work aggressively to thwart drug trafficking and stop impaired motorists. He also said police would be naïve to believe people in Indiana won’t be enticed to buy pot in Michigan when it’s legally for sale.
He and Becker expect the new law to lower stigmas on marijuana use in Indiana, which could attract more first-time users to try the substance. As local law enforcement agencies brace for potential increases in marijuana-related activity in the area, they’ll have to wait and see what effects occur before considering changes to any procedures.
“At a basic level, we’re not adding to our resources or anything that would require us to really do anything differently than what we’re already doing, but we do recognize that there’s going to be an uptick in possible criminal violations related to marijuana,” Turner said. “To think about what that means, I guess we just don’t know until we start seeing maybe some of the impact as time goes on. We just don’t know yet.”
Since Michigan residents voted, by a 56 to 44 percent margin, to legalize what the state terms as adult-use marijuana about three weeks ago, and the law hasn’t taken effect yet, police don’t have data to predict to what extent Indiana will be impacted by the neighboring law.
“It is too early to speculate what effect Michigan’s laws will have on this and/or how it will affect arrests or incarceration levels,” Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department Capt. James Bradberry said in an email.
Turner, Bohner and Becker voiced concerns legal weed from Michigan could lead to more intoxicated motorists driving on Indiana roads and highways, and that could lead to more drug-related traffic deaths.
“We don’t want any fatal crashes to begin with, but we don’t want any additional ones,” Bohner said.
“I do think it’s going to be an issue, but I guess we’re only going to see it when people demonstrate their impairment or hit and kill somebody and it’s too late,” Becker said.
Turner also anticipates marijuana possession cases could increase here.
Police in western Nebraska faced a similar situation after neighboring Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 and then allowed retail sales in 2014.
Marijuana possession arrests in 2014 were nearly 32 percent higher than those in 2012 in the seven Nebraska counties bordering the lines of Colorado’s northeast corner, a study out of the University of Nebraska in Omaha in 2016 showed. Arrests statewide in Nebraska increased about 8 percent from 2012 to 2014.
Becker criticized the election result in Michigan as a “bad idea,” believing legal access to recreational marijuana could erode family standards and lead to further increases in child abuse and neglect cases locally.
“It’s not just, ‘oh somebody’s sitting in their living room smoking a joint.’ It’s their 2-year old is wandering in the street. Their 13-year-old was molested because they had a party, and one of the people that was buying/selling/or using drugs in their apartment took the 13-year-old in the back room and had their way with them. This is what we see,” Becker said. “I see the impact, and what a terrible impact it has on our kids and our families here. And that’s what I care about.”
Becker also thinks family stability and child welfare has not been a prominent enough issue in discussions about legalizing marijuana for adult use, and the issue should be at the focus of similar debates in Indiana.
“These kids don’t have the choice as to whether their parents are so consumed with their selfishness that that they’re out buying weed instead of paying for their textbooks at school, or getting the computer that they need for school, or quite frankly even paying attention to them because they’re so busy getting high,” Becker said. “That’s the thing that just scares the you-know-what out of me.”
Turner questioned whether marijuana-infused edibles could make their way from Michigan retailers and into local schools where more youths could eat them, or whether teens could more easily get ahold of marijuana oils for vaping devices.
“Those things are going to be more covert, I guess to us, and we’re going to have to try and find ways to get ahead of that, whether we’re educating ourselves or trying to make sure we’re understanding what the trend seems to be at the time,” Turner said.
Another concern Turner listed is the possibility of more people going to local hospitals for issues related to marijuana; not overdoses, he said, so much as illnesses among inexperienced users trying legal pot brands that are probably more intense than illegal street weed, or as a result of injuries related to marijuana use.
“There’s all kinds of crazy things that could happen that we’re just not really prepared to understand what the repercussion of it is yet because we just haven’t experienced it,” Turner said.
The effects of Michigan’s legalization of marijuana in northern Indiana will likely develop over a period of months and years as Michigan adjusts to the new law.
The state’s Board of State Canvassers is scheduled to certify the Election Day results Monday, and the adopted marijuana law is expected to take effect 10 days later on Dec. 6.
At that time, adults 21 years of age or older can purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, and up to 10 ounces can be kept in homes, but amounts above 2.5 ounces have to be stored in locked containers. Adults can also grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal use in their homes, details in the new law shows.
Public intoxication, intoxicated driving and underage consumption are due to marijuana use will remain illegal.
Retail establishments won’t appear for at least a year. The law sets a 12-month waiting period, starting from when it’s enacted, until the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs department can begin accepting applications and issuing licenses for marijuana shops. The first businesses will probably start opening in the first quarter of 2020, said David Harns, the agency’s spokesman.
“There’s quite a bit of work that has to be done over the course of the next year,” Harns said.
And then, for two years after licensing begins, the first licenses are limited to those who first obtained a license to dispense medical marijuana. Harns estimated nearly 70 licenses for medical marijuana facilities are currently in effect. A center in Kalamazoo is the closet one to northern Indiana.
Michigan communities can also regulate, limit or prohibit marijuana retailers within their boundaries, according to the new law.
The proposed recreational marijuana law was passed by voters in Berrien, Cass and St. Joseph counties, located along the state line with northern Indiana. Branch County voters voted against the proposition.