By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers and Americans have supported marijuana reforms for years now. In October 2016, a Howey Politics/WTHR-TV poll found more than 70% of Hoosiers, including 58% of Republicans, favored marijuana reforms.

Gallup has documented increasing support for legalizing marijuana over more than five decades, with particularly sharp increases occurring in the 2000s and 2010s. In 2013, a majority of Americans, for the first time, supported legalization.

As was the case in 2020, solid majorities of U.S. adults in all major subgroups by gender, age, income and education support legalizing marijuana. Substantive differences are seen, however, by political party and religion. While most Democrats (83%) and political independents (71%) support legalization, Republicans are nearly evenly split on the question (50% in favor; 49% opposed). 

According to Ballotpedia, the first state legalized marijuana for medical use in state law in 1996. In 2012, the first states legalized marijuana for recreational use in state law. As of April 2021, 36 states and Washington, D.C., had passed laws legalizing or decriminalizing medical marijuana; an additional 10 states had legalized the use of cannabis oil. Nineteen of the states that had legalized medical marijuana did so through citizen-initiated ballot measures, and the other 16 did so through legislative action. As of June 2021, 18 states had legalized recreational marijuana.

This past month, one of Indiana’s major parties – Democrats – has embraced marijuana reform.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., kicked this sequence off when he said in his Left of Center podcast that he smoked marijuana at a Grateful Dead concert at Wrigley Field in Chicago this past summer and called for reforms during his Left of Center podcast on Friday. Illinois is one of 18 states that has legalized recreational use while another 13 have decriminalized cannabis. McDermott, who is seeking to challenge U.S. Sen. Todd Young, added, “If I’m elected to the U.S. Senate, I’m going to vote to decrim- inalize. I’m going to vote to legalize.” McDermott asked, “Is it a big deal that I admitted to smoking marijuana? It was a perfect situation.”

Now Indiana Democrats are lining up on the issue. “We want to be the party in Indiana that really takes the lead on this issue,” said Indiana Democratic Chairman Mike Schmuhl. “I think we have seen the impact that legalization and medicinal use has made on the states around us, and we’re losing out. I think Indiana is behind on this issue.” 

Michigan and Illinois both have legalized recreational marijuana, while Ohio has legalized it for medical uses. “This is a really popular issue,” Schmuhl said. “And I think people want to see this get done. And so if Democrats can take the lead on it, even being in the minority, that’s great, and we’re going to try to get as many Republicans on our side as we do it.” 

“Hoosiers have seen the impact that recreational and medicinal cannabis use has made on the states around us, and not only are they contributing to neighboring states’ economies, Indiana is now on the verge of losing out altogether,” Schmuhl continued. “The Republican supermajority at the Statehouse is losing its economic common sense if they do not join Democrats this session in making this opportunity a winner for the Hoosier State,” said Schmuhl.

State Sen. Rodney Pol Jr., who replaced Sen. Karen Tallian, tweeted, “This session, I will be following in Senator Tallian’s footsteps and introducing her legislation to change our out-of-date and out-of-touch marijuana laws. We shouldn’t be sending folks to jail for marijuana use.”

Hoosier Republicans are also changing stances, with former state senator Jim Merritt backing legalization while State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, has introduced reform legislation in recent sessions.

“Whether it is medicinal or for legal adult use, it is time to legalize cannabis in Indiana,” Merritt, who is preparing a gubernatorial run in 2024, wrote in an IBJ oped article in October. “Given the state’s proven track record of being incredibly accommodating to businesses and our strong agricultural roots, we are missing opportunities to attract new companies, create jobs and boost our economy overall.”

Two Indiana counties stand out in this debate on the changing norms surrounding this issue.

Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears is no longer charging individuals for possession. Mears explained, “In Indiana, the continued criminalization of marijuana is an inadequacy in our criminal justice system that increases racial disparities and limits economic opportunities for our state. This is why, under my leadership, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office established a policy to no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession in 2019. This decision has kept hundreds of non-violent offenders out of jail, allowed our office to devote more resources to successfully prosecuting violent crime and ensuring justice for victims, and saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

In Whitley County, former Purdue and Portland Trailblazer star Caleb Swanigan was arrested on Dec. 23, 2020, with 3.4 pounds of marijuana, drug drug paraphernalia and cash inside his vehicle. He was sentenced earlier this year to a 180-day suspended sentence with two days served.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation on Monday that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and eliminate legal hazards facing many cannabis-related businesses while regulating its use like alcohol (Reuters). U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who is spear-heading the legislative effort, described the bill as a “compromise” with less onerous regulations than measures proposed earlier by other lawmakers including Democrats. The legislation’s path in the Democratic-controlled House was uncertain. Mace, a first-term lawmaker, said the measure has five Republican co-sponsors. 

Governor

Braun disputes finance allegations

The campaign of U.S. Sen. Mike Braun disputed preliminary findings by the Federal Election Commission that revealed $8.5 million in “inappropriate loans” during his 2018 showdown with Democrat Joe Donnelly. “The draft audit report issued by the FEC’s audit staff nearly two months ago was just that: A draft issued before the campaign committee provided the necessary documentation to clear up the loan issues raised in the report,” said Braun Chief of Staff Joshua Kelley in a statement last Thursday. “However, if you have read the documents that the campaign committee has since provided to the FEC or listened to the recent hearing with the FEC commissioners, it is clear that the final version of the FEC’s audit report will conclude that all the loans fully complied with the law. Sometimes these FEC audits require time to work themselves out; that has been the case here, and we’re not the least bit concerned about how the process will end.” 

According to The Daily Beast, FEC auditors found that Braun’s reports show more than $8.5 million in “apparent prohibited loans” to his 2018 campaign. That includes $7 million in direct loans and lines of credit – with no collateral – “that did not appear to be made in the ordinary course of business.” The FEC also “identified two checks from one corporation totaling $1,500,000 that were reported as loans.” 

The Braun campaign blames the violations on the campaign treasurer, Travis Kabrick, who has not responded to inquiries from the Braun campaign as well as the FEC. Kabrick, “was, at least ostensibly, an experienced FEC compliance professional who had worked for many federal candidate committees over many years” according to the Daily Beast. 

According to the draft report, the FEC found seven mistakes or potential campaign finance violations: Misstatement of financial activity; failure to file 48-hour notices of contributions; failure to disclose contributors’ occupations and/or name of employer; receipt of apparent prohibited contributions-loans; receipt of contributions in excess of the limit; failure to disclose memo entries and candidate loans; and prohibited candidate personal loan repayments.

INDEM Executive Director Lauren Ganapini called for a criminal investigation of Braun, saying, “It’s clear from the reporting that came out this morning that Mike Braun broke the law and stole a United States Senate seat in 2018. Today, Hoosiers need to ask themselves a sobering question: Do we have an illegitimately elected U.S. senator? Braun used $8.5 million of ‘apparent prohibited loans’ to fuel his campaign – an amount of money that made his campaign much more competitive. The Department of Justice and the United States attorney for the Southern District of Indiana should determine whether federal laws were broken. The Indiana attorney general also should look into any wrongdoing with state law, particularly those related to tax records.”


Congress

8th CD: Bucshon announces for reelection

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon will run for reelection. (Dubois County Herald). Dr. Bucshon is a heart surgeon and has held the 8th District seat since being first elected in 2010. “During my time in Congress, I’ve worked to champion commonsense conservative values of faith, family, and freedom,” Bucshon said. “Amid the biggest wave of socialism to wash over our nation ever, I am eager to remain in the fight to champion these values and to ensure that we pass on a country full of unlimited opportunity and freedom to future generations of Americans. I am running for reelection next year and I humbly ask Hoosiers in the Eighth District to renew my job contract in 2022 for another two years in order to allow me to continue fighting on their behalf in Congress.”

9th CD: Fyfe to challenge Hollingsworth

Democrat Matt Fyfe is hoping to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth as a candidate for Indiana’s 9th Congressional District. Ballotpedia reports that Democrats Jonathon Cole, D. Liam Dorris and Babak Rezaei are declared candidates in the 2022 general election, along with Republican Hiren Patel and Libertarian Tonya Millis. Fyfe, 33, grew up near Fort Wayne and now lives in Bloomington. He is a father of three who teaches math at Bloomington High School North and serves on the board of the Monroe County Education Association. “You could say I’m an outsider, but I have some of that teachers’ union spunk in me,” he said.

General Assembly

SD46 (current): Boehnlein wins caucus


Southern Indiana businessman Kevin Boehnlein has been selected to fulfill the remainder of Indiana State Sen, Ron Grooms’ term, beginning this session. Boehnlein was elected on the first ballot by a caucus vote with overwhelming support against Charlie Moon. Boehnlein is expected to run in the new SD47 against State Sen. Erin Houchin. Boehnlein thanked precinct voters and community supporters. He said: “It is time for new energy, new ideas, new leadership and real world experience. I have a strong passion for service, as well as an enduring love for the district and its people.” Boehnlein emphasized the importance of cutting the state income tax this session. Floyd County Recorder Lois Endris stated, “The caucus results speak for themselves: Kevin Boehnlein has the confidence of the community and the region; he will serve us well.” Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer said, “Congratulations to Kevin Boehnlein on winning the caucus and becoming Indiana’s newest state senator. Hoosiers in the 46th Senate District will be well represented in Indianapolis by Sen. Boehnlein.”

SD19: Holdman to seek reelection

Sen. Travis Holdman has announced he will seek reelection to the Indiana Senate in 2022 to represent Senate District 19 – which will include Allen County (Kelly, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). “During my tenure in the state Senate, I have kept my promise to fight for the citizens of northeast Indiana and be a strong voice for our shared conservative values at the Statehouse,” Holdman said. “With everything going on in Washington D.C., at the federal level of government, it is more important than ever that we keep strong, conservative leadership in Indianapolis.” 

SD31: Walker to seek full term

State Sen. Kyle Walker (R-Lawrence) announced his campaign for reelection. Walker was elected to the Senate one year ago by Republican caucus to replace Sen. Jim Merritt. Democrat Fishers Councilwoman Jocelyn Vare announced she would run last week.

SD26: Wright shifts from CD5

Former legislator Melanie Wright is going to seek SD26 and not CD5, according to a Facebook posting. “I have decided to run for the open Indiana State Senate seat for District 26. The district was created through the redistricting process that was recently passed by the General Assembly with no incumbents included in the area,” Wright said. “Why the change? I found myself telling political affiliates that I couldn’t wait to knock doors again, build relationships with people and be a problem solver. A federal race is not necessarily built on these tenets:) There has to be room in the middle for a common sense school teacher to be able to represent rural Indiana! I sincerely just want to help others and provide insight on how legislation can be molded to truly serve those in Indiana.” New maps signed into law in October took the 5th CD which had been +9 Republican in the Cook Partisan Index to +22 Republican in FiveThirtyEight ratings.

HD72: Grubbs to challenge Rep. Clere

New Albany resident Jackie Bright Grubbs will be running in the Republican primary (News & Tribune). Charlie Moon and Tom Jones have also declared for the 2022 Republican primary.  Having been in contact with state representatives, Grubbs came to the conclusion that the concerns of citizens did not resonate with some of them. “Our school systems were designed to teach academics, logic, and critical thinking skills. It is apparent that academics have taken a backseat while social issues rule the school,” Grubbs said. Grubbs also noted that she is both pro-life and supports the Second Amendment. In the House seat, Grubbs would like to provide “the point of view of the everyday citizens.”