With debates on marijuana legalization taking place in cities throughout the United States, many Hoosiers are wondering when Indiana will start considering a change.
David Orentlicher, a professor of law at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law at IU-Purdue University Indianapolis, said people shouldn’t hold their breath.
“I think we are going to be a follower rather than a leader on this issue,” he said. “Legalization of marijuana is just not an issue that resonates in Indiana.”
Orentlicher guessed that in order for Indiana legislators to seriously consider legalizing the drug, they would need to see significant evidence that it serves a valuable medical purpose or that it can become a valuable source of revenue.
“It’s possible that Indiana could legalize medical use, but to have full legalization something dramatic would probably have to happen on the national level,” said Orentlicher, who is also the co-director of the Hall Center for Law and Health. “I’d say it will be at least ten years before marijuana is legalized in Indiana.”
A former state representative, Orentlicher knows how difficult it is to pass bills on such controversial matters. The proposals made for legalizing medical marijuana this year in the Indiana Senate did not even receive hearings.
Orentlicher said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act won’t be enough to allow Hoosiers to smoke pot legally. Though the newly-founded Church of Cannabis plans to use the law as protection for their first church service July 1, Orentlicher said it is doubtful the members will get away with their unique form of worship.
“What you need to have is a long-established religion for RFRA to apply,” he said. “It needs to be a religion that has the hallmarks of a religion, has a moral code that extends beyond drug use, has a religious hierarchy, has congregations or places of worship, and the use of drugs is only one aspect.”
Though Orentlicher recognizes the potentially harmful effects smoking marijuana can have, he said he feels the state could benefit from a more relaxed stance on the drug.
“My sense is that in general we’re probably overly strict with drug laws and have overly strict enforcement of them, so we need some relaxation,” he said. “It’s good that we’re seeing states start to relax, and then other states can learn. So if we get more data, we can get a better sense of where the balance should be drawn.”