An interim study committee on public health, behavioral health and human services failed to agree on a proposal Thursday to expand medical marijuana use to Hoosiers who qualify for certain treatments.
Fourteen voices in support, eight opposed and two independent researchers joined in the hours-long conversation with the committee, which opened with a statement from Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, as to why the topic should be studied.
“We can’t continue down the path of doing nothing,” Lehman said.
Lehman’s measure, House Resolution 2, was introduced last spring. A separate measure by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, proposed the legalization of all “cultivation, dispensing and use of medical marijuana by persons with serious medical conditions.”
Lucas’ bill never received a hearing, while the House unanimously voted in favor of the study committee.
With 31 states signed on to prescribing cannabis for medicinal purposes — including Washington D.C., and three of Indiana’s four border states, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan — legislators, advocates and challengers continue to wonder if, or when, Indiana will join the growing national trend.
Those in support of the bill and expanded medical marijuana use in the state spoke for an hour. Many cited the potential benefits of the drug to those suffering from a variety of physical and mental disorders, from post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia to cancer and fibromyalgia, and to those in vulnerable demographics, including veterans and the opioid addicted.
Illinois Republican State Rep. Tim Butler advised the Indiana committee to consider the economic incentives of the drug and invited them to visit Illinois to see its benefits in action.
His state first opened the door to medical marijuana use in 2014. Additionally, as of August, Illinois now allows cannabis prescriptions to be filled alongside opioid treatments in its Opioid Alternative Pilot Program. The goal of this is to limit dependency on opioid prescriptions by supplementing pain therapy with medical cannabis.
The conversation intensified following commentary from addiction psychiatrist Ed Gogeck, who practices in Prescott, Arizona. Gogeck suggested the legalization of medical marijuana could heighten substance addiction among teenagers. He also disputed the idea that marijuana can help treat opioid addiction.
“What the marijuana industry has done is exactly what Big Pharma did to cause the opioid epidemic in the first place,” Gogeck said.
By the end of the testimony, committee members voiced several questions and, in general, a reluctance to move forward because of a lack of concrete evidence for or against the drug.
Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, was the first to offer a proposal following the testimony. He said legislators should start assembling a state agency to oversee the legalization of medical marijuana and to study its effects.
Countering his enthusiasm, Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, among others, said there should be more research at the federal level before making a decision for Indiana.
“I don’t think we should put the cart ahead of the horse,” Brown said. “We are not ready to have a regulatory agency or commission to study the impact of this at all.”
After motions to either advance or continue studying the issue failed, the committee passed a final report 12-1 with no new recommendations.
The committee’s initial proposal failed 8-5. A separate motion to continue to study the topic also failed, 9-4. A final report with no new recommendations passed 12-1.
Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.