Indiana lawmakers to weigh THC regulations, marijuana decriminalization

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Indiana lawmakers this summer and fall will discuss potential regulations for THC products, as well as possible decriminalization of marijuana.

Whether those deliberations will result in forward momentum is still undetermined as legislation often fails to materialize from interim study committee meetings. 

The public health summer study committee will focus on “delta-8, delta-9, and other THC products regarding potential health benefits, potential decriminalization, and other potential consequences,” according to the agenda approved by legislative leaders from both caucuses.

While lawmakers said total marijuana decriminalization is on the table for debate, they will also explore restrictions involving the sale of products like delta-8, including age requirements for purchasing.

Delta-8 is a chemical compound derived from hemp, which was legalized federally in the 2018 farm bill and gives users a weaker high than delta-9, the chemical found in marijuana.

“It’s important to inform ourselves on delta-8 and delta-9,” Republican State Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said. “I think a lot of members of the General Assembly aren’t overly familiar with what those products are.”

Bray said he’s not sure what, if any, legislation will come from the committee but believes it’s an important issue to study.

“We in Indiana have been slower to go that direction than states that are surrounding us, as you all know, but we don’t live in a vacuum,” he said. “We have to figure out where we are and this is going to be an important conversation to have this summer for where Indiana moves.”

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb expressed reservations about signing a new cannabis law, saying that until marijuana is federally lawful, “we’re getting ahead of ourselves.”

“I don’t question the potential positive impact it could have, but this needs to be done lawfully,” Holcomb added.

Delta-8 derived from hemp plants is legal to purchase and produce in Indiana, as long as they contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC. Hemp-derived CBD and delta-10 THC are also legal in Indiana.

Hemp flower and delta-8 flower are not legal under state law, however. The same goes for medical and recreational marijuana, which is classified in Indiana code as a controlled substance.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor of Indianapolis said he’s hopeful that the committee’s discussion will sway the Republican supermajority to seriously consider decriminalization, noting it could be a cost-saving move for the state.

“I felt like it was in the wrong committee,” Taylor said. “But if they’re going to discuss it, I’ll be here to provide my input on what we should do.”

The discussions follow an ongoing effort by state Democrats to legalize marijuana in Indiana. They maintain that marijuana legalization could boost the economy and bring more jobs.

Republican legislative leaders have rejected marijuana bills previously, though, arguing that they prefer to wait for federal legalization first. 

Lawmakers studied cannabis for medical use in 2018, but pushes for any form of legalization have been unsuccessful.

Of the 11 marijuana-related bills drafted in 2021, only one became law. That law, authored by Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis and sponsored by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, offers a defense for drivers caught with marijuana or its metabolite in their bloodstream, as long as the driver was not intoxicated and didn’t cause an accident.

A separate bill introduced this year sought to ban delta-8, but died in the final days of session.

“We would love to see (lawmakers) find out how beneficial all this stuff is, and use it, potentially, as a pathway for decriminalization and medicinal use,” said Frank Lloyd, a board member at Indiana’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 

Lloyd pointed to successful reform in Indianapolis, where Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears has remained in support of legalizing cannabis. His office stopped prosecuting cases for simple marijuana possession in 2019–part of an effort to reduce the prison population and allow police to focus on violent offenders.

Still, statewide decriminalization in the 2023 legislative session is “extremely optimistic, at best,” Lloyd said, given that lawmakers will likely need more time to “get on board.” He’s creating the “Indiana Cannabis Chamber of Commerce” to help bolster lobbying efforts and increase education for lawmakers and the public.

“Realistically, we’re starting the clock for the next two to three years on a decriminalization bill or a medicinal cannabis bill,” he said. “But I think that this is a great beginning.”

State lawmakers meet during the summer and fall months to discuss various top policy issues, gather public input and recommend legislation for the upcoming legislative session. Affordable housing, maternal mortality and education mandates are among the other topics lawmakers are slated to explore ahead of the 2023 General Assembly.

The topics were selected by the Legislative Council, composed of eight members of the Indiana Senate and eight members of the Indiana House of Representatives. The chamber leaders alternate as chair each year.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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10 thoughts on “Indiana lawmakers to weigh THC regulations, marijuana decriminalization

  1. Why does Indiana always play catch up, to not just the nation but surrounding states? Legalizing marijuana could benefit the state in more ways than one. The revenue alone could solve several issues across the state, let alone make Indiana a more attractive place for growth. Don’t underestimate the simple things that people require in determining which states they’ll move to or even companies when deciding how business friendly, diverse and progressive your state is. Indiana is loosing out to our surrounding states on this topics.

    1. Indiana JUST allowed Sunday liquor sales a few years ago. The state is VERY conservative and this will probably only end up limiting Delta 8 and Delta 9. I do not see Indiana decimalizing cannabis until it’s legal federally. Just my opinion

    2. I am not against decriminalization, but I also recall when gambling expansion was sold as benefitting education. A few years afterwards, the same legislators decided to give Hoosiers a tax cut and now most of that lottery money goes to roads. (And we all know how poor educational outcomes are for Hoosier students.)

      So Indiana has a very poor history with the concept of increasing revenues to make Indiana more attractive to growth…

  2. I would be interested to know what effects legalizing of marijuana has had in other states in regards to crime. Did violent crimes go up? Down? Or stay the same?

    1. Good question. A Washington University study found a correlation between states that had adopted legalized marijuana and decreased violent crime, but it’s hard to pin that as a causality. There are likely other social factors that influence violent crime rates (e.g. education, housing/income stability, access to resources/healthcare, etc.).

  3. Hey Governor, it will be legal if the General Assembly passes a law. And here I thought you were a state’s’ rights kind of guy, but I guess that only selectively applies.