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Divergent Lawmakers Carry On Medical Cannabis Fight for Hoosier Patients

first_imgBy Erica IrishTheStatehouseFile.com INDIANAPOLIS — An unlikely duo is again promoting cannabis access for Hoosiers in the 2019 legislative session.Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, and Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, diverge on a variety of issues. Lucas, who has touted controversial measures to expand rights for gun owners and a bill to license working journalists, stands as a conservative and strict constitutionalist; Tallian, who is this year vocalizing the need for teacher pay raises and gun restrictions, often provides a perspective to the contrary. But each lawmaker, alongside a handful of supporters, like Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, can agree in one area: they say the time is now to legalize medical marijuana in Indiana.Tallian’s office announced Tuesday afternoon in a press release the senator — a long-time supporter of cannabis legalization and decriminalization – had filed two cannabis-related bills, with a third on its way.Bills submitted this week propose two items: Establishing a new Cannabis Regulatory Commission to monitor future developments in the relationship between Indiana and cannabis products, including CBD oil, hemp, and recreational/medical marijuana, and outright legalizing recreational marijuana in amounts of less than two ounces.A third bill that will again propose for the legalization of medicinal cannabis has yet to be filed.“Since marijuana programs cannot be approved by a ballot initiative, it is up to the legislature to follow the will of the people,” Tallian said in the release. “Support for legalizing and taxing cannabis is at an all-time high, and 10 states, as well as Washington, D.C., have already legalized marijuana for recreational use.” In an interview, Lucas said he is prepared to again introduce bills to legalize medical cannabis and industrial hemp. The last session, his medical cannabis bill died in committee and an accompanying measure to legalize industrial hemp failed in the Senate.Proposals to legalize cannabis in any capacity have been opposed by groups like Drug-Free Marion County, the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, and the Indiana Hospital Association. They say that legalizing the drug will increase the potential for underage abuse by teenagers and could lead to other types of addiction.In testimony delivered at a study committee this fall, representatives from each group also called on the state to wait until the drug makes it through the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval process, adding that not enough concrete, positive conclusions have been made to start the legalization process.For example, while the Journal of the American Medical Association formally supported the introduction of cannabis across the United States as a potential deterrent for opioid addiction and as a treatment for multiple medical disorders, it did acknowledge in a 2016 review that “empirical data” supporting cannabis for pain therapy was “far from robust.”Advocates, however, say there’s no time to waste.David Phipps, communications director for the state chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), a pro-cannabis campaign, said his team is thrilled Tallian is again taking the lead on cannabis issues in the Senate, where cannabis bills typically have struggled most in the past. He wants cannabis legalized as an alternative, less addictive form of medication for patients in need.But Phipps isn’t confident new Republican leadership under Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, will benefit the movement. He said the committees that review the bills are most responsible for hindering an open cannabis debate in the Senate, citing past decisions by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, while she chaired the Health and Provider Services Committee.As part of some of his first major decisions in charge, Bray moved Leising to chair the Senate Committee on Agriculture. Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, now chairs the health committee.Phipps said it is unlikely his supporters and their legislative partners can overcome the swathe of powerful opponents— a group that includes Attorney General Curtis Hill and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. He said it’s about “40 percent likely” Hoosiers will have access to medical cannabis in 2019 but is more confident with the outlook in 2020.Mixed messages from key players also continue to tangle the debate.While Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he will keep an open mind to cannabis legalization, he has yet to include the effort among his legislative priorities. He said he first wants to see a shift in federal guidelines, which continue to list cannabis as a Schedule I restricted drug among the likes of heroin and LSD.Even so, the governor did approve Senate Enrolled Act 52 last year, which legalized the sale and use of cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil, with less than .3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is the chemical that gives users a “high” in certain quantities.A study committee sponsored by Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, also provided no recommendation to lawmakers in October after hours of conflicting testimony.Lucas, however, isn’t buying the argument that there is a lack of credible information on the topic saying that, of the 33 states that have legalized medical cannabis, none have rescinded that decision. Instead, he said, most have only expanded rights to include recreational cannabis.“We have a moral obligation to set aside our ignorance and personal bias on this issue and let the facts come up here,” Lucas said. “People will discover the fear-mongering and the stigma is not the reality.”FOOTNOTE: Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Print Friendly, PDF & EmailFacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img read more