Illinois is now the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, which means that its neighbor Indiana is going to have some new challenges coming its way. Indiana will not only have to deal with the ripple effects of Illinois' latest decision, but Ohio’s medical marijuana program could also play a part.

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Let's also not forget that Michigan legalized recreational cannabis back in November of last year. Data has shown that while legal markets are popping up more frequently, black markets are as well, putting a strain on police departments and forcing non-legal states to consider their place in a country with legal marijuana.

What’s Going On In The Hoosier state

Union City - Circa April 2018: Welcome to Indiana, Crossroads of America sign I iStock / jetcityimage
On June 25, 2019, Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker signed a bill that would allow recreational adult use of cannabis in the state, the 11th state overall to do so and the first state to implement a marketplace set up by the legislature.  Adults over 21 years of age in the state can hold up to 30 grams, while non-residents can have half of that.

While a firm selling date hasn’t been settled on, proponents expect that as early as Jan. 1, 2020 that legal cannabis could hit Illinois shelves. On the other side of Indiana, Ohio signed medical usage of marijuana into law all the way back in 2016, but the program went into effect earlier this year in January. While some cities have decriminalized the plant, recreational selling is not allowed in the state.

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To the north, Michigan will also begin selling recreational marijuana sometime next year. If you want to legally partake in some marijuana adventures, you’re going to have to leave Indiana. If you are caught with less than 30 grams of marijuana flower, you’ll get a class A misdemeanor charge

Good Luck Seeing A Bill Anytime Soon

Oliver Perry Morton statue in front of the Indiana State Capitol building in springtime, Indianapolis, USA iStock / SerrNovik
Indiana, which is a conservative state, will probably not be legalizing the plant on its own anytime soon.

Their Attorney General, Curtis Hill, is a strong opponent of marijuana, having written an op-ed saying the plant should not be legalized as it "poses long-term risks to health, safety, education, and employment — especially among those who start young."

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In Indiana, a WTHR/HPI Indiana Poll in 2016 found 73 percent surveyed support medical marijuana with residents older than 65 favoring legalization by 57 percent to 41 percent. Nationally, a Gallup poll found 66 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, the highest number on record.

There have been numerous attempts to pass some reform on cannabis in the Indiana General Assembly. After the 2018 voting session ended, Indiana representatives from one of the states legislative committees met to discuss the future of medical marijuana in the state, but couldn’t agree on a consensus for anything substantial to leave, including another date for more hearings.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” said Republican Rep. Jim Lucas, a proponent of legalizing medical marijuana, said at the hearing. “This conversation is going to continue moving forward.

I‘m going to make it my mission.” Lucas, who said that he tried marijuana in Colorado to see what it was really like, commented that it was the “best night sleep I’ve ever had.” 

Along with other supporters within the legislature, Lucas has expressed his anger toward Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, who has been a hard no on the marijuana issue in the state, which is a big reason why marijuana has not had any gains.

Speaking to WIBC, an Indianapolis radio station, Lucas said that Indiana should be “embarrassed” by how slow it is being on the issue.

"This is something that we have to be intellectually honest about, guys, and quit relying on decades of stigma, fear-mongering, and just outright lies on this issue,” Lucas told the hosts.

“[legalization of marijuana] is not the magic wand for everything and yes, it can be abused. So with those ground rules established, let's move forward and start having an adult conversation on this issue."

Lucas continued that his government’s refusal to allow any more discussion on the bill is detrimental to everyone and that, "leaders need to lead. We have 30 states that have a medical cannabis program in place and 11, soon to be 12, that have gone recreational. Not one state has rescinded their cannabis programs. As a matter of fact, they've expanded them. Look at what Illinois is doing with opioid issue - they're expanded their cannabis program to help combat the opioid crisis. Even Kentucky is at least having hearings on medical cannabis, and we can't even get to the very first stage."

Police Have Their Work Cut Out For Them

With their neighbors soon to embrace marijuana, law enforcement in Indiana will be some of the first to truly see what will happen.

After a state legalizes marijuana, the black market in the surrounding states grows substantially in size. Prohibition states don’t only have to face an influx of marijuana going into the state, but also through it.

It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, in any state, but even if you buy it in a legal state, any marijuana at all in Indiana is illegal. Indiana State Police Sgt. John Perrine says his troopers are "not going to do anything different," and that they will "continue to enforce laws the same way we have done so in the past." 

However, the pressure on the state may change things in the coming years. As nearly all its neighbors implement marijauna programs (even conservative Kentucky has some cities that are moving toward giving up on enforcing marijuana), police will begin to face a losing battle with the inevitable uptick in marijuana users that will trickle into the state.

After Colorado first passed legalization, its neighbors Oklahoma and Nebraska were so bogged down by the increase in marijuana arrests that it sued the state, saying "marijuana flow [from Colorado] into neighboring states” is “draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."

The suit ended up being struck down by the Supreme Court, but those states had to learn the hard way that maybe trying to stop marijuana just isn’t the way to go.