Indiana Lawmakers to Explore Marijuana Decriminalization and Delta-8 THC Regulations This Summer

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“We in Indiana have been slower to move in this direction than the states around us, as you all know, but we don’t live in a vacuum.”

Casey Smith, Indiana Capital Chronicle

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

It remains unclear whether these deliberations will build momentum forward, as legislation often does not materialize after these interim 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 the legislative leaders of the two caucuses.

While lawmakers have said full decriminalization of marijuana is up for debate, they will also explore restrictions on the sale of products like delta-8, including age requirements for purchase.

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

“It’s important to educate us about delta-8 and delta-9,” said Republican Senate President, Pro Tempore, Rodric Bray. “I think a lot of General Assembly members aren’t too familiar with what these products are.”

Bray said he doesn’t know what legislation, if any, will come from the committee, but thinks it’s an important question to consider.

“We in Indiana have been slower to move in this direction than the states around us, as you all know, but we don’t live in a vacuum,” he said. “We need to figure out where we are and this is going to be an important conversation to have this summer about where Indiana is moving.”

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

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

It is legal to purchase and produce delta-8 derived from hemp plants in Indiana, as long as it contains 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, however, are not legal under state law. The same goes for medical and recreational marijuana, which is classified under the Indiana code as a controlled substance.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Greg Taylor of Indianapolis said he hopes the committee’s discussion will spur the Republican supermajority to seriously consider decriminalization, noting it could be an economic measure for the state.

“I felt like it was on the wrong committee,” Taylor said. “But if they want to discuss it, I’ll be there to give my opinion on what we should do.”

The talks follow an ongoing push by state Democrats to legalize marijuana in Indiana. They argue that legalizing marijuana could boost the economy and create more jobs.

However, Republican legislative leaders have already rejected the marijuana bills, arguing that they would rather wait for federal legalization first.

Lawmakers studied cannabis for medical purposes in 2018, but pushes for any form of legalization failed.

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

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

“We would like to see [lawmakers] find out how beneficial it all is and use it, potentially, as a pathway to decriminalization and medical use,” said Frank Lloyd, board member of the Indiana Chapter of the National Organization for marijuana law reform.

Lloyd pointed to the success of reform in Indianapolis, where Marion County Attorney Ryan Mears remained supportive of cannabis legalization. His office stopped prosecuting cases of simple possession of marijuana in 2019, as part of an effort to reduce the prison population and allowed police to focus on violent offenders.

Still, statewide decriminalization in the 2023 legislative session is “extremely optimistic at best,” Lloyd said, given lawmakers will likely need more time to “buy in.” He establishes the “Indiana Cannabis Chamber of Commerce” to help strengthen lobbying efforts and increase education for lawmakers and the public.

“We actually start the clock for the next two to three years on a decriminalization bill or a medical cannabis bill,” he said. “But I think it’s a good start.”

State legislators meet during the summer and fall months to discuss a variety of major policy issues, gather public comment, and recommend legislation for the next legislative session. Affordable housing, maternal mortality and education mandates are among other topics lawmakers need to explore ahead of the 2023 General Assembly.

Topics were selected by the Legislative Council, made up of eight members of the Indiana Senate and eight members of the Indiana House of Representatives. The heads of chambers alternate as president each year.

This story was first published by Indiana Capital Chronicle.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis/Side Pocket Images.

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