Indiana's county prosecutors remain vehemently opposed to any form of marijuana legalization and insist the plant "is not medicine" amid a push by a conservative state lawmaker to have it recognized as such.
The Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys argues any type of marijuana legalization would come with grave consequences in a letter sent to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb's administration. The letter, dated last week, was publicly released Monday.
"Reports abound of efforts to legalize marijuana in the state of Indiana," wrote David N. Powell, the association's executive secretary. "We respectfully ask the (administration) to formally oppose the legalization of marijuana in any form, for any purpose."
It comes as state Rep. Jim Lucas — a media-savvy politician better known for his outspoken opposition to gun restrictions — says he will "100 percent full-throttle" pursue medical marijuana legislation.
The libertarian-leaning lawmaker from Seymour faces long odds during the session beginning in January, but the fact that a Republican is so vocally pushing the measure marks a significant change.
Reached Tuesday for comment on the prosecutors' letter, Lucas said: "The gloves are off." Holcomb's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, a proponent of medical marijuana, said, "I think their position is wrong."
"This is kind of a knee-jerk reaction by the prosecutors who have always opposed any kind of marijuana legislation," Tallian said.
Although federal law still considers marijuana illegal, more than half of U.S. states, including some conservative ones, have legalized medical marijuana for the treatment of certain conditions.
"We got 29 states that are ahead of us that have shown the benefits," Lucas said. "Can it be abused? Sure, anything can be abused. But since we know this can save lives, why do we want to continue to risk the quality of life, or the well-being of innocent people, just because some might go out there and abuse it?"
He suggested medical marijuana could provide an alternative to addictive painkillers.
The prosecutors association disagrees. They also say those who argue that marijuana can be used as medicine are relying on "half-truths and anecdotal evidence." But that's at odds with scientific studies that have found marijuana can treat chronic pain and ease nausea from chemotherapy, among other medical issues.
"Science, it's like climate change. You can deny it all you want but science out there is showing that cannabis has proven medical benefits," said Tallian.
Tallian said "of course" she plans on filing legislation again to address the topic and drug laws in Indiana.
"I don't know how long the prosecutors are going to just keep denying this," Tallian said. "We're just not together on this one."
A federal advisory panel said in a January report that there are likely medical benefits to marijuana, but also potential risks that need to be researched more.
Powell said in his letter that a Food and Drug Administration review is the only "legally recognized procedure for bringing safe and effective medications to the American public."
"To date, the FDA has not found marijuana to be either safe or effective medicine for any condition," he added.
Last year, Indiana took baby steps toward adopting medical marijuana after Holcomb signed a law allowing those with a form of epilepsy to use cannabidiol, often referred to as CBD, which is derived from pot plants but lacks the stuff that will get you high.
The prosecutors association opposed the measure.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said he agrees with the letter the association sent. Marijuana is "an entry-level drug" that affects the brains of young people and escalates to deadlier and stronger drugs affecting Northwest Indiana with the opioid epidemic, he said.
"You're chasing that high," Carter said.