Indiana is one of the few states in the US that has not legalized cannabis in any form. Possessing even a small amount of marijuana can land you in jail and cost you a hefty fine. But there is one county in Indiana that has a different approach to cannabis: Marion County.
Marion County Decriminalizes Marijuana
Marion County is the most populous county in Indiana, and home to the state capital, Indianapolis. In 2019, the county prosecutor announced that his office would no longer pursue charges for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. This effectively decriminalized cannabis in the county, making it the first and only place in Indiana where you can possess weed without fear of arrest or prosecution.
The prosecutor, Ryan Mears, said that the decision was based on several factors, such as the racial disparities in marijuana arrests, the costs of prosecuting low-level offenses, and the public health benefits of treating addiction instead of criminalizing it. He also said that his office would focus on more serious crimes, such as violent offenses and drug trafficking.
The move was welcomed by many cannabis advocates and civil rights groups, who praised Marion County for taking a progressive step toward ending the war on drugs. However, not everyone was happy with the decision. Some law enforcement officials and lawmakers criticized the prosecutor for undermining the state law and creating confusion among the public. They also argued that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to more harmful substances and crimes.
Cannabis Bills in the Statehouse
Despite the opposition, Marion County’s decriminalization policy has inspired some state legislators to introduce bills that would reform Indiana’s cannabis laws. In the 2023 session, there are 13 marijuana-related bills that have been filed by both Democrats and Republicans.
Some of the bills propose to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, while others aim to decriminalize or reduce the penalties for possession. One of the most ambitious bills, authored by Republican Rep. Jake Teshka, would legalize both medical and adult-use cannabis in Indiana, but only if the federal government removes marijuana from the list of schedule one drugs, which are deemed to have no medical value and high potential for abuse.
However, the chances of any of these bills passing are slim, as Indiana has a conservative and Republican-dominated legislature that has historically been resistant to any cannabis reform. Moreover, Governor Eric Holcomb has repeatedly stated that he is opposed to legalizing marijuana, and that he would only consider it if the federal government changes its stance.
The First Church of Cannabis
Another interesting development in Indiana’s cannabis scene is the First Church of Cannabis, a religious organization that claims to use marijuana as a sacrament. The church was founded in 2015 by Bill Levin, a cannabis activist and entrepreneur, in response to the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was seen by many as a way to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people and other minorities.
Levin argued that under the RFRA, his church should be allowed to use cannabis as part of its religious practice, without being subject to the state’s prohibition laws. He filed a lawsuit against the state, seeking an exemption from the marijuana ban. However, the lawsuit was dismissed by a judge in 2018, who ruled that the RFRA does not protect illegal activities, and that the church failed to prove that cannabis was essential to its faith.
The church, which has about 600 members, still holds services every Wednesday, where they sing, meditate, and share their testimonies. However, they do not openly consume cannabis during the services, as they fear being raided by the police. Levin said that he plans to appeal the court’s decision, and that he hopes to see cannabis legalized in Indiana someday.
Indiana is a state that has a strict and conservative attitude toward cannabis, and has not legalized it in any form. However, there are some signs of change and progress, such as the decriminalization policy in Marion County, the cannabis bills in the statehouse, and the First Church of Cannabis. These developments show that there is a growing demand and support for cannabis reform in Indiana, and that the state may eventually join the majority of the US in ending the prohibition of marijuana.