A Republican lawmaker outside of the usual champions of cannabis law in the Indiana General Assembly will push for a sweeping bill to legalize recreational and medical marijuana in Indiana.
Representative Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, said she drafted the bill for the next legislative session after being approached by several lobbyists to push it through and doing her own research on related laws in others. 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 that Ziemke’s interest in the issue could at least open the conversation in the GOP-dominated Legislature.
His bill would mimic Michigan’s marijuana law. It would legalize medical and adult marijuana for anyone over the age of 21 in Indiana, while establishing a strict regulatory system. It would establish a state commission, similar to the Gaming and Alcohol and Tobacco Commissions in Indiana, to regulate what products for sale, set the number of licensed dispensaries, and designate that tax revenue from sales of marijuana. are used for public health.
Ziemke said there were a number of reasons that prompted her to pass a marijuana legalization bill. On the one hand, she fears Indiana may lose ground to neighboring states of Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, where some form of marijuana use is already legal.
Ziemke has also long been an advocate for drug addiction and addiction awareness during his 10 years in the legislature, largely because of the experiences of his two adult sons recovering from their heroin addiction during eight years.
“A lot of that is also from when I called my son and said, you know, what do you think about me writing this cannabis bill? And he said, ‘You should do it.’ He said, “because you know these people will go to a dealer to buy weed and might end up leaving one day on meth,” Ziemke said. “I want a safe product that exists and is controlled. “
Ziemke said she sees this as an opportunity to use the proceeds from marijuana sales to fund better public health in Indiana.
“We’re so good at so many things. But when it comes to public health, we’re horrible, ”Ziemke said. “So if that would generate money that could go more to our state’s public health, that’s how I envisioned it for both public health and mental health and addiction.”
Still, Ziemke said she knew she had a steep hill to climb in persuading Statehouse Republican leaders to hear the bill before the House Public Policy Committee, a hurdle most laws over marijuana in Indiana cannot overcome.
Historically, the dozen or so bills drafted each year relating to marijuana have not been heard in the commissions assigned to them. This is a decision determined by the committee chairs, who usually take their orders from the House and Senate leaders.
Ziemke had conversations about the legalization of marijuana with Speaker of the House Todd Huston, R-Fishers, Speaker of the Senate Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville and Governor Eric Holcomb and asked them to bear in mind open.
She also worked with Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, who is chairman of the public policy committee, who she said was open to conversation, but is unlikely to give a hearing to the bill without the blessing of Huston.
“No matter how hard I tried… I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get a hearing for this,” Ziemke said. “I’m pragmatic enough to know that in a short session it’s difficult, and with the reluctant governor… it’s difficult. So, you know, usually I wouldn’t introduce a bill unless I could get it passed. But I think it’s important.
Holcomb took a strong stand against the legalization of marijuana in Indiana until it was legalized at the federal level. He softened his stance slightly this month when he said in an interview with Indy Politics that he would agree to a law putting in place a licensing structure for legal cannabis to prepare the state for the case. where federal law would change.
Huston and Bray were also cold about the possibility of marijuana legalization in the 2022 legislative session.
Huston said he would assign any marijuana-related bill to committees, but added that he was not yet convinced that legalizing it in any form was good public policy.
“I’m interested in hearing more of these conversations, but so far, you know, I’ve kind of stayed where I am,” Huston said. “I know that we are going to have members who will introduce bills on this subject and that they will have to be assigned to a committee. But, you know, for me it’s always been about just wanting to get to what I think is good public policy. “
Smaltz did not respond to interview requests from IBJ.
Political observers consider Ziemke to be generally well respected within the caucus, acting as deputy chairman of the majority. His involvement could have some weight in changing the minds of leaders, said Chad Kinsella, executive director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University.
Marijuana has long been an issue Democrats have championed, so having a Republican in general with a marijuana bill is necessary for it to pass through the legislature where Republicans hold a qualified majority in the House and Senate. Kinsella said.
Many Hoosiers are already on board. In Ball State’s 2018 Hoosier Survey, nearly 80% of those polled said they wanted some form of legalization of marijuana, for medical or recreational purposes, in Indiana. And 50% of Republican respondents said they were at least in favor of medical legalization.
When Ziemke conducted his 2021 legislative survey in his district, 60% of those polled also said they were in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.
Kinsella said that with growing public opinion for the legalization of marijuana and now more members of their own party pushing for legislation, Republican leaders will soon have to accept consideration of a bill, or they will. will have to explain why they are not doing what the voters want. .
Ziemke said she was working with some House Democrats and the Black Legislative Caucus on her bill.
Representative Sue Errington, D-Muncie, who typically tables a marijuana law every year in the House, said she offered to help Ziemke in any way she could.
“I think there’s a chance, especially given the fact that she’s a Republican who’s been around for a while,” Errington said. “It still depends on what the leaders of the House and Senate decide to do, whether or not they are ready to make that decision.”
Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, another Republican who is the usual champion of marijuana legislation, has also said he would agree to work with Ziemke on his bill.
“The more the merrier,” Lucas said. “I support any form or form of advancing this problem. It’s not who gets the credit, as long as we do it.