Pendleton could be first Indiana town to preemptively ban marijuana

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PENDLETON, Ind. (WISH) — An anti-marijuana ordinance introduced in anticipation of possible state-level legalization passed its first reading Thursday during a Pendleton Town Council meeting.

The four council members present voted unanimously to schedule the proposed ordinance for a second and final reading Dec. 12.

Nobody expressed concerns or voiced opposition during Thursday’s public comment period.

The ordinance would restrict the cultivation, possession, manufacture, distribution, processing, storing, laboratory testing, labeling, transportation, distribution, delivery and sale of marijuana within town limits if state legislators vote to legalize recreational use.

Pendleton would be the first town in Indiana to adopt an ordinance preemptively outlawing marijuana.

Advocates include town judge George Gasparovic, a member of the “Drug Free South Madison County Coalition.”

He believes the Indiana Legislature is “likely” to eventually legalize recreational marijuana, he said.

“If you go online in California, you can get your barbecue sauce with THC in it,” Gasparovic told News 8. “I’m thinking this is really beyond a fad stage.”

He cited safety, mental health and developmental concerns during his presentation to the council, and described marijuana as a potential “gateway” drug he believed could endanger local youth.

Gasparovic had encountered people whose lives were irreversibly damaged as a result of drug or alcohol abuse during his time on the bench and his service as a volunteer firefighter/EMT, he told News 8.

“My concern is… that there are going to be a lot of lives lost that could have been saved [if recreational marijuana is legalized in Indiana],” he said. “Many people say this is a tremendous gateway [drug] and, automatically, you’re going to move to hard drugs and you’re also going to be addicted immediately. That hasn’t been the case so far. But [research I’ve studied shows] 6 to 10% of people who do start [using marijuana] don’t stop and they move on to other drugs.”

“Some research” suggests marijuana use is likely to precede the use of other legal and illegal substances, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“However, the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances,” a 2019 NIDA report summary states. “Cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. Alcohol and nicotine also prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs and are, like marijuana, also typically used before a person progresses to other, more harmful substances.”

Scientists cautioned against conflating correlation with causation; marijuana use may precede addiction to other substances in some people without causing it, researchers said.

Supporters of Pendleton’s proposed anti-marijuana ordinance also cited a desire to “opt out” of potential changes in state law spurred on by “pressure from tobacco companies,” according to Gasparovic.

Colorado’s recreational marijuana law contains provisions that allow city and town governments to pass their own restrictions. 

The majority of Colorado’s 271 municipalities and approximately half of its 64 counties ban retail marijuana sales.

Robert Jones, vice president of the Pendleton Town Council, said passing an anti-marijuana ordinance could pave the way for Madison County to follow suit.

“Hopefully, we can take [the lead] throughout the county and say, ‘Here’s what Pendleton did,'” Jones said at Thursday’s meeting.

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