Weed is having something of a renaissance. After a year of the great Colorado legalization experiment — a state where anyone 21 and older can use pot for recreational as well as medical use — marijuana suddenly seems poised to becoming America’s Next Big Thing, maybe one day as ubiquitous and accepted as craft beer.
The Denver Post — a daily, family newspaper — has hired a full-time editor for a section of their publication called “The Cannabist.”
The Hoosier State remains resistant. Posession of 30 grams or less is a misdemeanor in Indiana, true, but the penalties max out at $5,000 in fines and one year in prison.
30 grams isn’t much more than an ounce. Or, say, one quarter of your Quarter Pounder — your Royale with Cheese.
And while pot still remains a target as a “dangerous drug” in Indiana and most of the nation, meth lab seizures in the state rose 108% from 2007 to 2012.
Despite a few small voices in the wilderness, the notion of decriminalization, much less legalization, hasn’t gotten a lot of traction in the Indiana General Assembly.
This even as critics of the nation’s misguided “War on Drugs” grow louder: said “War” hasn’t worked (weed use is actually up in Indiana by 4% over the last decade, according to a report from John Gettman from the University of Shenandoah) — and there’s the massive problem of racial disparity.
The ACLU has found that a Black American is four times more likely to be busted for pot than a white citizen — even though Blacks and whites use weed at the same rate.
NORML AND WHAT YOU CAN DO
Part of the problem is the federal classification of bud: although the Feds haven’t started shutting down pot shops in Denver, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule One drug — as dangerous as cocaine, according the government. That’s one part of the reason the feds spend roughly $500 per second on the “War on Drugs.”
Still: “The Feds reclassifying marijuana would be a huge help, but change can be made without the reclassification, just as it has been made in the many states that allow medical and even recreational marijuana,” says William H. Martin, an Indiana Criminal Defense Attorney and the Vice Chairman of Indiana NORML.
Martin expands on this in an email conversation: “[Indiana State Senators] Karen Tallian (D-Portage), Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) and Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) have indicated support in the past. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) from the House has introduced two bills in the last two sessions. Past that, we know there are those on both sides of the aisle who would support relegalization, i.e. tax and regulate, but they're not willing to step forward at this time. … We encourage everyone to register to vote, pay attention to the issue and changing laws, and to express their opinions to their lawmakers, whether that is at a state or local level. Politicians need to know that the majority of people want change and that they (politicians) don’t need to fear negative voter repercussions for voting for changing our marijuana laws.”
READ MORE about Sen. Tallian's work here.
Indiana pot advocates have no problem with regulating the drug in the same ways the state government restricts alcohol or tobacco. Cannabis activist Jay Brookinz, for example, says, “Should minors have acces? No. Should you drive after you smoke? Of course not.”
And the discussion we’re having here is only about recreational canna: industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana are still struggling to find their own allies in the state. Even Indiana’s recent “Right to Try” legislation, which would allow certain terminal patients to take a crack at treatments tat hadn’t been completely vetted, wouldn’t cover pot.
“As I understand it, the ‘right to try’ bill, unfortunately, will not permit the use of medical marijuana for those terminally ill patients who would benefit from it,” says Martin. “The problem is that in order for medical marijuana to be acceptable under this law, it would first have to pass through the initial phase of FDA approval, which it has not. The reclassifying of marijuana could help in this area, and would likely lead the FDA to ultimately approve of medical marijuana.”
The numbers are impressive: $52,570,081. That’s the total of marijuana taxes, licenses and fees pulled in by the state of Colorado in their fiscal year running from 2014-15. (Indiana has a larger total population than the Rocky Mountain State.)
And Colorado made $8.5 million in weed in January 2015 alone.
Be nice for Hoosiers to have that cash, wouldn’t it?
As big as that number seems on its face, though, it’s half of what many supporters had predicted. And as far as the larger state tax revenue situation goes, Ketzenberger reminds us that “taxes in Indiana generate nearly $15 billion a year. If [a] marijuana tax generated $50 million in Indiana, it would be 0.33 percent of the total tax take.”
There are hidden expenses here, too: Ketzenberger says that, “There would be administration costs associated with legalizing marijuana, so you’d have to bolster the regulatory structure. The ATC (Alcohol and Tobacco Commission) and the department of revenue would have to ramp up their hires and their regulatory regime. It’d be relatively miniscule, and you would have savings from court appearances.”
Much bigger savings would come from a reduction in the prison population.
The Indiana prison population totaled 29,913 on December 31, 2013 according to the National Institute of Corrections, and “Indiana county probation departments under the Indiana judiciary had supervisions pending for 61,193 felony probation cases and 65,967 misdemeanor probation cases as of January 1, 2013.”
In 2012, Indiana made 13,224 marijuana arrests (which was actually a decrease from 2011). And the state is spending over $14,823 per inmate, a number that only includes the cost of actual incarceration. (That’s actually not a lot of cash for sheltering and feeding the state’s prison population. The national average is around $32K.)
But the costs for busting pot users adds up quickly. John Gettman, PhD., a researcher from the University of Shanadoah who was brought to the Indiana Legislature by Senator Karen Tallian, estimated that in 2005 alone, “Criminal Justice expenditures for Indiana (Police, Courts, and Corrections) … result[ed] in an estimated cost of $149 million," for weed offenses.
Here’s just a few expenditures for Fiscal year 2014 from the in.gov’s searchable database:
Alcohol and Tobacco Commission: $4,723,321
Civil Rights Comission: $727,102
Department of Agriculture: $3,273,024
Division of Mental Health: $2,874,826
Governor’s Office: $119,743
House of Representatives: $4,747,879
Indiana State Prison: $10,491,069