INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier lawmakers seeking to legalize medicinal or recreational marijuana in Indiana will have to find a way to overcome the objections of Gov. Eric Holcomb.
The Republican chief executive recently told reporters that he is absolutely opposed to recreational marijuana in Indiana, even though adults across the state's northern border in Michigan face no impediments to using the drug following a successful November ballot initiative.
"I'm just not willing to look at that, especially since it is illegal right now according to the federal government," Holcomb said.
Marijuana is classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which means there is no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
The Obama administration advised states in 2013 that it would not interfere with initiatives to permit recreational or medicinal marijuana use at the state level, provided those efforts did not make marijuana available to children or affect federal drug trafficking enforcement.
Since then, 10 states have legalized recreational marijuana and 33 allow medicinal marijuana use, even though the Justice Department under the Trump administration has signaled that it intends to resume strict enforcement of the federal marijuana ban.
Holcomb said he took an oath in 2017 when he was sworn in as governor to uphold all the laws, including marijuana prohibition, that have been enacted under the U.S. and Indiana Constitutions: "Not a few of them, or some of them, or selections among them."
"Right now, it's a crime," Holcomb said. "I'm just simply not willing to look the other way."
Holcomb in March signed into law Senate Enrolled Act 52, legalizing the sale, possession and use of cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, notwithstanding a formal opinion by Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. that claimed even the low-THC product still is illegal under federal law.
"Indiana lawmakers delivered a bill that ensures Hoosiers who benefit from CBD oil can access it," Holcomb said at the time.
The governor has not addressed why he thinks a marijuana-derived product, such as CBD oil, is acceptable for Hoosiers to use, but marijuana itself must remain verboten.
Gov. says marijuana a gateway drug
But Holcomb did say marijuana, unlike CBD oil, is widely considered a gateway drug with ripple effects that have harmed Hoosier families "catastrophically" as casual marijuana users eventually embraced more dangerous narcotics.
He also said Indiana already has a high number of drug-addicted babies being born in the state, and noted there is no easy way to test motorists for marijuana impairment — putting everyone in the "Crossroads of America" at risk if marijuana is legalized.
Moreover, the governor said he's not interested in legalizing marijuana just so Indiana can tax it and grow its budget.
"I'm not concerned about collecting revenue," Holcomb said.
"Fortunately, we're in a state that's in a strong position, fiscally speaking, so we're not maybe looking to every potential source without addressing all the adverse effects that come with it."
At the same time, Holcomb is not unsympathetic to the idea that marijuana may have potential medicinal benefits.
But he thinks the federal government, not Indiana, should investigate if that's the case and reschedule the drug accordingly.
"I am encouraged that the surgeon general is on record — a Hoosier, by the way, Dr. Jerome Adams — saying that some research needs to go into this," Holcomb said. "But it's got to be done in the right way. It's got to be done legally."
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, is among the lawmakers who will be pushing for either medicinal or recreational marijuana legalization when the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Jan. 3 convenes its four-month legislative session.
Tallian said support for legalization "is at an all-time high" among Hoosiers, and since Indiana does not permit ballot initiatives, like Michigan, it's up to the Legislature "to follow the will of the people."
Should Holcomb veto a marijuana legalization proposal approved by the Indiana House and Senate, it takes only a simple majority — the same vote needed to pass it in the first place — to override the veto and enact the law notwithstanding the governor's objection.