Election Day saw Indiana’s neighbor to the north, Michigan, legalizing recreational marijuana use, sparking discussions about what this could mean for Indiana.
Proposal 1 was supported by 56 percent of Michiganders. As a result, adults over the age of 21 will be allowed to purchase products that contain marijuana. Additional aspects of the proposal will also limit how much a person can possess at once and a licensing process will be required for those looking to sell or grow the substance.
There are currently 33 states as well as the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana used for recreational and/or medical use.
Despite Michigan’s legalization, Indiana’s law enforcement will not be changing anything about their approach to marijuana possession and use, according to Sgt. Ron Galaviz, public information officer for the Fort Wayne Post of the Indiana State Police. Those found in possession of the substance in the state of Indiana, regardless of what state they call home, will face legal repercussions.
“This doesn’t change the way we as an agency do business,” Galaviz said. “Marijuana is still illegal here and it is still federally illegal. No disrespect to Michigan or any other state that has made it legal, but (people) need to understand that if they think they’re going to bring any back, they’re going to get caught and go to jail because at minimum it’s a misdemeanor.”
With the Michigan border so close, Galaviz said that ISP expects an increase in marijuana-related arrests in northern Indiana, but they aren’t sure to what extent yet. While there aren’t going to be any changes to how the laws are enforced, Galaviz expects that area state troopers will be more aware of the possibility that some motorists may be in possession of the substance.
“It’s not like we’re going to pull in all of our state troopers to the Michigan state line,” Galaviz said. “But the troopers … will be keeping an extra eye and nose out. They’ll definitely have it in the forefront of their mind.”
A greater concern for Galaviz and the ISP is the potentially increased likelihood of people driving to Michigan to use marijuana and then driving home still under the influence.
Locally, Whitley County Prosecutor DJ Sigler does not think the number of arrests connected to marijuana will go up, noting that there is at least a “two-county buffer” between Whitley County and the Michigan state line. The challenge, Sigler noted, will be making sure that even people just passing through understand that they are subject to Indiana law while they’re here.
“I don’t think it’s going to result in any significant addition to what is already a drug problem in Indiana,” Sigler said. “We have several cases every year from confused motorists stopped on one of our state highways or local roads and are arrested for possession of marijuana.”
Marijuana has been, and will remain, a hot topic of discussion as more states begin to recognize not only its medical value, but its recreational value. States that have legalized or at least decriminalized marijuana in some capacity surround Indiana on three sides and the dialogue around Indiana legalization continues to grow louder. Sigler believes Indiana passing some sort of law that permits marijuana use to some extent could very much become a reality.
“I think that there is a strong national movement and a vocal movement in the state of Indiana that would like to see it legalized,” Sigler said. “I oppose it personally and we oppose it as an organization, the Prosecuting Attorney Council, but do I think there’s going to be a loud contingent? Absolutely.”
According to an Old National Bank/Ball State University 2018 Hoosier Survey, a majority of the 604 Hoosiers surveyed by telephone are receptive to making marijuana legal for personal use.
Additionally, 39 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal for personal use, while 42 percent said it should be legal only for medicinal use. Only 16 percent said it should not be legal at all. If marijuana remains illegal, then only 16 percent said people should serve jail time for possessing small amounts.
Until that day comes, prosecutors like Sigler and law enforcement agencies like ISP are bound to the state’s laws that currently prohibit marijuana use and/or possession.