State study panel makes no recommendation on medical marijuana

State lawmakers listened to more than three hours of testimony Thursday afternoon about whether Indiana should allow for medical marijuana usage, but it’s unlikely the issue will get much consideration in the upcoming legislative session.

The Public Health, Behavioral Health and Human Services interim committee—a panel that was approved by the last General Assembly to study the issue—heard from a mix of medical professionals, legal professionals, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and a Florida medical marijuana company.

The committee did not come to any consensus on the issue nor did it make any recommendations.

Republican Illinois state Rep. Tim Butler also testified about what he’s observed in his state since medical marijuana was legalized it in 2013. Illinois expanded its law earlier this year.

Butler talked about the patients he’s seen improve from usage of the drug, and the state-of-the-art facilities now operating in the state to cultivate and distribute marijuana.

“I’m 100 percent supportive of this program,” Butler said. “The change we’ve seen in Illinois has been tremendous.”

Several doctors told the committee that they believe allowing medical marijuana use would curb the ongoing opioid epidemic in Indiana, because patients could use marijuana—a much less addictive substance—instead of opioids to deal with pain.

“Open your minds to the possibilities,” said Jeffrey Ferguson, a family medicine doctor with St. Vincent Medical Group.

But not every doctor that testified supported the idea of legalizing pot for medical use.

John McGoff, an emergency room physician, said he supports the idea of doing more research but isn't ready to call for legalizing it.

Ed Gogek, an addiction psychiatrist from Arizona, told the committee that medical marijuana legalization could lead to a list of negative side effects, including an increase in marijuana usage among teenagers and damaging brain development.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce also is opposed to the idea.

Republican committee members echoed the position that Gov. Eric Holcomb has taken. The governor has said medical marijuana is an issue the federal government needs to handle before the state considers moving forward with it.

Democrats said 31 other states have already legalized medical marijuana, and it’s time for Indiana to stop waiting for the federal government.

“You’re passing the buck,” Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, said to Republican committee members.

“It has to be addressed at the federal level at some point, doesn’t it?” Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, said.

“You’re still passing the buck,” Summers said.

Regardless of the committee’s actions, one lawmaker has already said he will file a bill to legalize it.

Rep. Jim Lucas, a Libertarian-leaning Republican from Seymour, told the committee about a trip he took to Colorado and how he tried marijuana while he was there.

“I tried it, love it,” Lucas said. “Best night’s sleep I ever had.”

Lucas said he even tried to “overdose” on it to see what the effect would be, and he felt fine the next day.

“You cannot overdose on cannabis,” Lucas said. “I’m bringing the legislation. Hopefully it gets a hearing.”

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