Abdul-Hakim Shabazz: Indiana needs to get off the pot

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

ShabazzBefore we get started, let’s make a couple of things perfectly clear: First, I think marijuana should be legal for both recreational and medicinal purposes. Second, I don’t smoke pot because it dulls my hatred and cynicism of most people.

Now with those two premises established, Indiana needs to get off the pot and start preparing for the day marijuana becomes legal.

I say this because, in the last couple of weeks, two more states—North Dakota and Illinois—took steps toward either legalizing marijuana or decriminalizing its possession.

In North Dakota, lawmakers went the decriminalization route. An individual caught with marijuana for the first time with less than half an ounce will no longer be charged with a criminal misdemeanor, but instead an infraction, and will pay a fine. Meanwhile, in my home state of Illinois, lawmakers legalized marijuana for recreational use. It was already legal for medicinal purposes. On top of that, the law also will clear the records of up to 770,000 individuals with low-level marijuana convictions.

According to Governing magazine, 33 states have some form of legalized marijuana. For the record, it takes the approval of 34 states to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Indiana, what’s your problem?

I understand it took decades just to get Sunday retail alcohol sales, so asking for marijuana legalization might be a bit much. But at the very least, lawmakers and policymakers should start preparing for the day pot is legal in the Hoosier state. It’s inevitable, just like same-sex marriage.

The state should convene a commission and start promulgating what the rules should be for marijuana legalization and consumption, so that, when that day arrives, lawmakers are ready to go. And it’s not like Indiana would have to start from scratch; it has 33 other states to look at to see what works and what doesn’t.

Should Indiana look at a distribution system like the state of Washington that has growers, distributors and retailers? Should it look at a place like Nevada that allows for dispensaries to deliver? And like Illinois, if marijuana is legalized, should we remove the convictions of low-level offenders who were caught with a small amount of pot? Plus, now that pot is legal in Illinois, I somehow think a lot of people are going to be making trips to Chicago, Danville and Marshall, Illinois. I’m just saying.

And it’s not like there’s a lot of opposition to marijuana legalization. In the 2018 Hoosier Survey poll conducted by Ball State University and Old National Bank, 80% of respondents said marijuana should be legal in one form or another; 39% favored legalization for all purposes. The poll found 42% favored only medical marijuana and just 16% opposed any form of legalization. So it’s unlikely lawmakers would face any significant political consequences for at least considering what a regulatory scheme would look like for marijuana legalization.

And even my good friend Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has opposed legalization because it is still considered a controlled substance under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, should not have a problem with, at the least, making sure Indiana is prepared for what might happen should marijuana be legalized. A lot of states waited until after they legalized pot to come up with rules; in this case, Indiana can be ahead of the game.

This isn’t hard to figure out, folks, unless you’ve been smoking something other than pot.•

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