Late last year, the chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party announced full support for legalizing recreational marijuana and posted on the party's website that Indiana Democrats are calling on the General Assembly to pass legislation to make it happen.
Several Democratic and Republican state legislators have introduced legislation pertaining to marijuana possession and use.
In the best interest of our state's future, many of us in the Democratic Party respectfully disagree with the party chairman. Recreational drug use is not a simple matter and has an effect on many beyond the user. We believe the issue has not had sufficient study and that much more research and analysis is needed.
One of the supporting arguments included on the state party's website is that 80% of Hoosiers favor legalization. In fact, in the survey they are referencing, only 39% of the respondents stated support for legalizing recreational marijuana while 42% supported legalization for medicinal use only. Combining the responses misrepresents the findings of the survey and is disingenuous.
Another supporting argument is that taxing the sales of recreational marijuana will generate new revenue for Indiana. This argument likely overstates the potential for increased tax revenue.
As Charles Gascon, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has written, “... increases in tax revenue from recreational sales likely overstate the fiscal impact or could be short-lived. Consumers are likely to spend a greater share of their income on marijuana and less on other taxable goods, such as alcohol.”
In other words, the revenue generated by marijuana sales would be offset by losses in tax revenue that result from reduced sales of other products.
He further states the argument ignores the costs associated with recreational marijuana. “The recreational use of any drug may create social costs, such as long-term health problems, accidents, unemployment, vagrancy and crime.”
The Democratic Party's website asserts that marijuana use reduces opioid, alcohol and prescription drug use. As states began legalizing medical marijuana, there were some early studies that suggested medical marijuana may lead to reduced opioid overdose mortality. A number of more recent studies, however, have had different findings.
For example, researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine found that legalizing medical marijuana does not reduce fatal opioid overdoses.
We also know that marijuana use can have many negative consequences. When the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands passed a law prohibiting noncitizens from accessing cannabis shops, researchers found that foreign students who could no longer legally access cannabis had substantially improved academic performance. And the improvements were even larger for low-performing students in courses that require more mathematical skills. The academic performance of those students who could still legally purchase and use marijuana did not improve.
Here in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a review of 48 studies found that students who used marijuana were less likely to finish school.
Research conducted at the University of California San Francisco found that recreational use of marijuana is associated with an increase in automobile accidents and increased injury as a result of overdoses. Other research has found that marijuana use correlates with lower life satisfaction, and even with the risk of psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and depression.
Today our state faces many challenges. This is a time that calls for thoughtful, informed leadership and action on the part of our elected officials, as well as our citizenry.
The issue of marijuana use is complex, and any changes to the law can have both broad and deep consequences. Any reform must recognize and address these complexities.
Our legislators need to take a deep breath – of fresh air – and take the time to hold balanced hearings and study the issue thoroughly before making any changes to the law.
Jill Long Thompson is a former member of Congress, former board chair and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration and former undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture.