As state senator, I have been working on marijuana reform for over a decade.
What are the reasons for reform? Choose your favorite. The general public’s stated reasons have changed. A dozen years ago, people would quietly whisper that they supported what I was doing. As the years passed and more states voted to reform laws, those people who had been whispering became vocal, and eventually loud. There are plenty of reasons for legalization; here are mine in no particular order.
Individual choice: Adults are free to choose how they want to live. Marijuana use is not a danger to society, but a socially accepted norm. Folks should be free to make this choice for themselves. We long ago freed ourselves of the Reefer Madness myth that this is a gateway drug on the road to perdition leading directly to heavy drug use.
Alcohol comparison: Marijuana use is comparable to alcohol use. It should be legal, regulated and taxed. Prohibition of alcohol produced nothing but a black market and gangsters.
Economic issues: Consider the costs of enforcement, including police, prosecutors, courts, jail and probation. Then consider the financial benefits reaped by other states: new jobs in growing, processing, retailing cannabis—both for recreational and industrial uses. Neighboring states are taking in hundreds of millions in sales tax revenue. They have a regulated market; we have a black market.
Medical benefits: For years, medical marijuana was the least controversial topic of reform. Everyone knows a cancer patient who could benefit. Even many conservatives supported pain relief and a “whatever works” philosophy. Stories of marijuana use for epileptic children could bring you to tears. Studies have proven and re-proven marijuana’s pain-relieving effects, but our arcane laws prevent similar research.
Criminal injustice problems: My own efforts on reform arose from my legal interactions, as an attorney, with the criminal justice system. I saw too many instances, and too many stories, of lives wrecked or derailed because of simple possession charges—crimes that hurt no one. All this because of a historical and unsuccessful War on Drugs, and having simple marijuana lumped in with trafficking in crack and heroin. The worst effects on our children were not a result of marijuana use, but of arrest and incarceration after its criminalization.
Today, courts in more progressive jurisdictions either do not prosecute possession of small amounts or they offer diversion, generally resulting in charges being dropped, but fines being paid. There are, however, some jurisdictions where people can still be sent to jail. The disparity of injustice differs not only across county jurisdictional lines but blatantly among poor/rich and Black/white demographic lines. This has been documented for decades.
National movement: During my 12 years of advocacy, the national scene has substantially changed. Reforms include: medical marijuana programs; decriminalization (no criminal charges for simple possession); possession legalized; possession legalized and sales regulated. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that has been tracking data for over 20 years, Indiana is one of 11 states without any of these.
The public wants this. Our legislators are afraid to listen to them.