PENDLETON — Municipal Judge George Gasparovic already had given his department report before the Pendleton Town Council on Oct. 14 when, toward the end of the meeting, Council President Jessica Smith asked whether there was anything else for the good of the order.
Gasparovic stepped forward, this time as a private citizen, and implored the council to consider an ordinance that would prevent the sale of marijuana within the town’s limits should the Indiana Legislature vote to legalize its recreational use.
“We understand the individual freedom people want to have it, but then again, it spills over into other people’s lives,” he said. “You wind up having crime, medical situations, drinking and driving. It could be my mom, my daughter, my grandmother. We already have enough accidents. Why add another thing to it?”
Gasparovic and Bill Hutton, members of the Drug Free South Madison County Coalition, are on a mission to spread the message that legalization of marijuana for recreational use would not be good for Pendleton or Madison County. They would like to see local rule in Madison County, similar to Colorado, where 176 of 272 municipalities opted to prohibit retail marijuana sales within their borders.
“It would be nice if it spread to other communities and then to the county as a whole,” Gasparovic said.
With the Indiana General Assembly gearing up for its 2020 short session in January, it’s possible that once again, legislation will be introduced to follow the lead of other states that have done so. Gasparovic and Hutton said lawmakers will be under pressure, especially from tobacco companies that lost so much revenue as they settled lawsuits due to illnesses proven to be related to their products.
Legislators also may be eager to jump on the bandwagon because our neighbor, Illinois, already has done so and stands to siphon away money that could be spent in Indiana, they said.
Gasparovic said he believes plenty of lawmakers aren’t necessarily in favor of recreational marijuana but that the economics of it, especially as the states around us opt to legalize it, make it attractive.
“You realized it was just about dollars and cents. It was dividends for corporations,” he said. “Industry is being creative to meet the demand.”
To date, 11 states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. But Gasparovic and Hutton said they believe, as long has been said by those who work with drug addicts, that weed is a gateway drug for those who eventually go on to use stronger substances, such as crack, heroin and methamphetamines.
But because of the economic impact and the tax revenue marijuana sales are likely to raise, they understand their message will be a hard sell.
“The other side is hardly being presented,” Gasparovic said.
He and Hutton, both of whom say they never have tried marijunana, aren’t against the use of all marijuana, just recreational use. They said there just aren’t enough controls in the production and distribution process to ensure the safety of the public.
“There are some good uses for it if it’s controlled by a medical facility. But a medical facility can be a mom-and-pop shop that’s not really controlled,” Gasparovic said.
He said he believes the recent legalization of CBD oil does not pose the same danger as turning a blind eye to marijuana and THC-laced products, such as barbecue sauce and vaping products.
“I don’t see any kids getting that rubbing it on themselves. I don’t see them jumping into cars and crashing into things,” he said.
Hutton, who also serves on the board of South Madison Community Schools, said he’s concerned about the presence of marijuana in schools and in the workplace.
“It’s more and more troubling the more you find out about it,” he said. “With the community trying to stay afloat, it sounds attractive. But on the other hand, you spend three or four times as much on services that are needed, so it’s a strain on the taxes.”
Hutton said in Madison County, 50% already can’t pass blood tests for jobs. That could mean liability for companies that use truck drivers or other heavy equipment and danger for children riding on school buses driven by people who partied the night before, he said.
“You want them to be as clear-headed as possible,” he said.
A retired elementary school principal, Hutton said he’s especially concerned about students who mistakenly may believe that marijuana is harmless. Kids have a number of places where they can hide marijuana, including draw strings on hoodies, shoes with stash pockets and vaping devices that look like pens, flash drives and other legitimate devices.
“They can take a hit walking between classes, and it’s almost impossible for teachers and administrators to monitor because the kids are so far ahead,” he said.
Some programming to steer students away from the belief that marijuana is harmless has been implemented in South Madison schools, Hutton said.
“It’s happening. Not necessarily as quickly as we’d like to,” he said. “We would like for the adults to ask questions because when adults ask questions, we can start solving problems.”
Gasparovic and Hutton’s message is receiving mixed reviews from adults who still believe marijuana is benign and that consenting adults should be allowed to do what they want.
“But then when you relate it to their kids, it becomes a little more relevant again,” he said.
And members of the Pendleton Town Council have kept their feelings regarding Gasperovic’s pleas close to the vest.
“I think, if anything, they have been pretty neutral,” he said.
In the meantime, the coalition is developing an ordinance that will prevent the sale of marijuana in Pendleton. Right now, Hutton said, the emphasis is development of effective enforcement measures.
“With alcohol, we know if you have a certain percentage in the blood, it’s an issue. But we don’t have anything comparable with marijuana,” he said. “Our law enforcement has their hand tied behind their backs, in a way.”