Indiana House Republican to file sweeping marijuana legalization bill

A Republican lawmaker outside of the usual champions for cannabis legislation in the Indiana General Assembly will carry a sweeping bill to make recreational and medical marijuana legal in Indiana.

Ziemke

Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, said she authored the bill for the upcoming legislative session after she was approached by several lobbyists to carry it and did her own research on related laws in other states.

She acknowledges that it will be difficult to persuade reluctant Republican legislative leaders to give the bill a chance. However, some political observers believe Ziemke’s interest in the issue could at least open the conversation in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

Her bill would mimic Michigan’s marijuana law. It would legalize marijuana for medical and adult use for anyone over the age of 21 in Indiana, while also putting in a strict regulation system. It would establish a state commission, similar to Indiana’s gaming and alcohol and tobacco commissions, to regulate products for sale, set the number of allowed dispensaries and designate that tax revenue from marijuana sales be used for public health.

Ziemke said a number of reasons drove her to carry a marijuana legalization bill. For one, she fears Indiana is losing ground to the neighboring states of Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, where some form of marijuana use already is legal.

Ziemke also has long been an advocate for raising awareness about drug abuse and addiction during her 10 years in the legislature, largely because of the experiences of her two adult sons who are going on eight years recovering from heroin addictions.

“So much of it also comes from when I called my son and I said, you know, what do you think about me authoring this cannabis bill? And he said, ‘You should do it.’ He said, ‘because you, know those folks will go to a dealer to get pot and could end up leaving one day with meth,'” Ziemke said. “I want a safe product that’s out there that’s controlled.”

Ziemke said she sees this as an opportunity to use the revenue from marijuana sales to go to funding for better public health in Indiana.

“We are so good at so much. But when it comes to public health, we are horrible,” Ziemke said. “So if that would generate monies that could go more into public health for our state, that’s how I envisioned it for both public health and mental health and addiction.”

Still, Ziemke said she knows she has a steep hill to climb persuading Republican leaders at the Statehouse to give the bill a hearing in the House Public Policy committee, a hurdle most marijuana legislation in Indiana can’t get over.

Historically, the dozen bills drafted each year relating to marijuana are not given hearings in their assigned committees. That is a move determined by the committee chairs, who generally take their marching orders from House and Senate leaders.

Ziemke has had passing conversations on marijuana legalization with House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, and Gov. Eric Holcomb and has asked them keep an open mind.

She has also worked with Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, who is chair of the Public Policy committee, who she said was open to the conversation, but likely won’t give the bill a hearing without Huston’s blessing.

“No matter how hard I’ve tried … I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get a hearing for it,” Ziemke said. “I’m pragmatic enough to know that during a short session this is hard, and with the governor being reluctant … it’s hard. So, you know, typically I wouldn’t run with a bill unless I could get it passed. But I think this is important.”

Holcomb has staked out a firm stand against marijuana legalization in Indiana until it is legalized at the federal level. He softened his stance slightly this month when he said in an interview with Indy Politics that he would be fine with a law setting up a licensing structure for legal cannabis to prepare the state in the event federal law changes.

Huston and Bray also have been cold to the possibility of marijuana legalization during the 2022 legislative session.

Huston has said he will assign any marijuana-related bill to committees, but added that he has yet to be convinced legalizing it in any form is good public policy.

“I’m interested in hearing more of those conversations, but so far, you know, I’ve kind of stayed where I am on it,” Huston said.  “I know we’re going to have members filing bills on this topic, and they’ll have to be assigned to a committee. But, you know, for me, it’s always been about I just want to get to what I think is the right public policy.”

Smaltz did not respond to IBJ’s requests for an interview.

Political observers see Ziemke as generally well-respected in the caucus, serving as assistant majority chair. Her involvement could carry some weight to shift leadership’s minds, said Chad Kinsella, managing director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University.

Marijuana has long been an issue Democrats push for, so having a Republican in general carry a marijuana bill is necessary for it to pass the legislature where Republicans hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate, Kinsella said.

Many Hoosiers are already on board. In Ball State’s 2018 Hoosier Survey, nearly 80% of respondents said they wanted some form of marijuana legalization, medical or recreational, in Indiana. And 50% of Republican respondents said they were at least in favor of medical legalization.

When Ziemke conducted her 2021 legislative survey in her district, 60% of respondents to that also said they were in favor of medical marijuana legalization.

Kinsella said with growing public opinion for marijuana legalization and now more members of their own party pushing for legislation, Republican leaders will soon have to come to terms with considering a bill, or they will have to answer to why they are not doing what voters want.

Ziemke said she is working with some House Democrats and the Black Legislative Caucus on her bill.

Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, who typically files marijuana legislation each year in the House said she offered to help Ziemke in any way she could.

“I think it stands a chance, particularly because of the fact that she is a Republican who’s been around for quite a while,” Errington said. “It all still comes down to what the House and Senate leadership decide to do whether they’re ready to take this move or not.”

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, another Republican who is the usual champion of marijuana legislation, also said he would be on board with working with Ziemke on her bill.

“The more the merrier,” Lucas said. “I’m supportive of any shape or form of moving this issue forward. It’s not who gets credit for it, as long as we get this done.”

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34 thoughts on “Indiana House Republican to file sweeping marijuana legalization bill

    1. Getting it out of shadows is good policy, dealers want addicts, addiction comes with harder drugs. Better money for the dealers. Oh and don’t forget dems don’t prosecute anything, so control the narrative on pot. The dems won’t they just let them back out on low or no bail.
      Oh and who likes all betting commercials, but they jumped on board any way.

  1. Great! Let’s legalize prostitution while we’re at it; we could use Nevada’s law as an example…just think of all the tax revenue it could generate…you know, “for the children.”

    1. Legalizing prostitution would reduce human trafficking. People are going to hire prostitutes no-matter-what, might as well legalize and regulate such that it’s safe for everybody.

      Prohibitions only create black markets with no oversight. You can’t regulate away demand with prohibitions.

    2. Maybe if they legalize it, they could offer vocational classes at the high school level. I bet Wes would love that.

    3. Why the heck is prostitution illegal anyway? Legalize and regulate it – take the crime out of it. There’s obviously a need…..

    4. Yes Murray, I think that’s a great idea for 18 year olds. Why not teach them safe ways to profit off their bodies? We have vocational programs for plenty of other trades that abuse the bodies and health of young people.

    5. It’s never happen, Wes. Just another potential group that might unionize and we can’t have that in Indiana, “A state that works” two jobs to make ends meet.

    6. Robert H., police departments often claim a need for $$ to combat human trafficking to get many of the lucrative grants available for the subject. But actual cases of human trafficking are extremely rare. A lot of times they will announce human trafficking busts to get the publicity, but human trafficking charges are never filed because they’re just old fashioned prostitutes who willingly made the decision to engage in that occupation.

  2. Vote out! Anybody!!!! That doesn’t join to help get it passed!!! Immediately!!!!! This is the almighty North!!!! Known for Leading America!!!!!!!!! Not the damn South!!!!!!

  3. Hear we go again with another bad idea based on the monkey see, monkey do attitude of following other states’ bad decisions. Like others have mentioned, anything goes now if there is tax revenue being generated. We have lost our moral compass as a society and this is just another example of liberal thinking. I hope we will see leadership take a stand against this outrageous idea.

    1. Joe F. – It been proven down through the ages that you can’t legislate morality. People will choose what activities they want to participate in no matter what the politicians might decree (and politicians, conservatives among them, are often the most flagrant violators of societal morals).

    2. Brent, the “you can’t legislate morality” argument is as old as the hills.

      Is it immoral to kill someone? Of course, so, since “you can’t legislate morality,” why not make it legal to kill anyone who is inconvenient to you? We already do that legally with abortion on demand, so why not just extend the age at which you can murder someone to, say, 100 years, rather than a few weeks after conception?

      (You have heard of the slippery slope reality, haven’t you?)

    3. Not if they know anything about crime. Why is it fine when the federal government says its ok? They are the brain power? As for a moral compass, no one has to drink, smoke, gamble, or anything else.

    4. Bob P. – you unwittingly confirm my point. it is both immoral and illegal to kill somebody. The law however hasn’t stopped people from being immoral or kept them from killing other people. Now do you get it?

  4. Why is alcohol legal, but cannabis isn’t? Alcohol is physically addictive, causes horrible auto accidents, makes some mean & belligerent, ruins health, families, relationships, work, and on and on…

    1. Agree. At worst, stoned drivers are only going 5mph so any crashes they cause will be minor (won’t even set cause the air bags to be deployed). The worst thing that can happen is there could be a shortage of Twinkies.

  5. legal or not, its widely available, just like alcohol might as well regulate and tax it. It’ll also put less burden on law enforcement and our courts.

  6. The war and drugs and the strict crackdown on pot was an invention by the Nixon Administration. If you had a drug arrest record you could not vote and in hindsight it has been viewed as scheme to keep the anti war hippies and the blacks from voting.

    1. Any time the government has a war on anything, be it terror or drugs or whatever, it’s really about taking citizens’ rights away and nothing more.

  7. Speaker Todd Huston says “it’s always been about I just want to get to what I think is the right public policy.” So the other 99 members of the House don’t get a say in making public policy on this issue? So much for representative government in the Hoosier state.

    1. C‘mon, Brent. I’m sure Huston will face the wrath of the voters he selected in his recently gerrymandered district at the next election…

      (end sarcasm)

      I’m always amazed that Republicans defer to federal laws when it comes to marijuana, but when it comes to abortion or vaccine mandates, they’re all about states rights. Pick a side and play it consistently.

  8. Indiana is missing the money boat. Indiana spends untold millions yearly on prosecution and incarceration for Marijuana. Instead, Indiana should be leading the way, creating a new industry, creating businesses, creating jobs, creating renewable tax streams, and also giving medicine to those in need. Instead, we are plagued with a bunch of frightened, and corrupt politicians that receive well documented donations from big pharma and the “for profit” prison corporations. Holcombe and his cronies will never do what is right and good for Hoosiers, only what is best for their personal slush funds.

  9. I appreciate Rep. Ziemke being transparent about her family’s struggles with substance abuse and trying to bring some positive change out of what I suspect was a terrible time for her as a parent.

    1. Amen. And perhaps we should listen to what her son said to her.

      And with most Hoosiers living within an hour’s drive of states where marijuana is legal, does anyone really believe that we have any way to prevent purchase and use?

  10. It is great to read that Indiana has not gotten out of the 19th century mindset. Illinois and Michigan are happy to take our money. Our legislators are hopelessly ignorant. It is time for them to get on their horses and buggies and ride home!

  11. I’m just here to read the comments.The only reason its not already legal in Indiana is because of Eli Lilly and Roach diagnostics pull on Indianas political leaders.Indiana will approve it when other states have already made 100’s of millions.Opps,i said I was just hear to read the comments and I end up leaving my two cents. Lol

  12. I don’t believe THC is the end of society as we know it. HOWEVER, as in all the states currently selling the product, those who currently get it on the “secondary market” will continue to do so. No taxes, higher concentrations, etc. The most mind-numbing part of this article is that Ziemke conducted research from her two heroin addicted sons. What?? This is how we will write policy. Look opioid addiction is awful in families. Unfortunately, I know of several. And my heart goes out to them. But these people once addicted will lie, steal and cheat family and friends into the ground. Most people who become addicted didn’t start because they went to the dentist for a tooth ache and came home heroin addicts. They do start by abusing alcohol, marijuana and other substances. A lot of personal choice goes into these bad decisions. Let hope the State of Indiana is smart enough to avoid some of the same.

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