Op-Ed: Ohioans voted for reproductive freedom and legalized marijuana. Hoosiers don’t have the right to weigh in on issues – but we need it

FILE PHOTO — INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – AUGUST 5: A sign lists the names of the 57 Indiana House of Representatives members who voted to ban abortion, outside the Indiana State House during a special session on August 5, 2022, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The legislature held a special session to ban abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in June. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)

By: House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne)

Word count: 622

One thing is very clear from this year’s general elections: When voters are given the choice to weigh in on policy issues at the ballot box, they’re excited to do it. 

Ohio citizens got to vote on two different issues: reproductive freedom and marijuana. They voted on a constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to reproductive freedom and a ballot initiative that would trigger the legalization, regulation and taxation of adult-use marijuana products if passed. Ohioans said “yes” to both reproductive freedom and legalized marijuana. This means that they will once again have access to all reproductive choices, including abortion, and for the first time have access to legalized marijuana within state lines.

I hear all the time from Hoosiers across the state that they want the kind of voice people have in Ohio. One of the most common questions posed to my House Democratic colleagues and me is “Why can’t you just put it on the ballot?” or “Why can’t we take action to get it on the ballot?” 

The hard truth: Indiana has no right to a citizen-led ballot initiative in our constitution. Democratic efforts to put the issue of abortion to a non-binding ballot vote simply to gauge public opinion have been blocked by Republicans repeatedly at the state legislature. During 2022’s special session on abortion, State Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) offered an amendment to Republicans’ abortion ban bill to put the question of “Shall abortion remain legal in Indiana?” on 2022 ballots. The Republican supermajority legislature blocked her efforts. Now, Indiana has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, despite the fact that 56.7% of Hoosiers think there should be some form of legal access to abortion.   

On the issue of marijuana, state legislators studied its impact on teen use and the workforce this fall. After hours of discussion and a daylong committee hearing earlier this month, the committee failed to produce recommendations or even allow public discussion among the committee members, halting discussion on the topic once again. Marijuana legalization may not even be discussed during the 2024 legislative session. It’s clear that Indiana Republican legislators can’t figure this issue out, even though many other states have.   

What’s so scary about the public’s opinion on reproductive freedom and marijuana? If anything, it would serve the public and their elected officials well to settle the matter at the polls. Then, Indiana’s legislature could get back to doing the important work of lowering the cost of living. Or fixing out-of-control healthcare and housing costs with pragmatic solutions. 

Indiana House Democrats know that Hoosiers want the government to do something about these kitchen-table, family-budget problems. We believe that telling families and individuals what to do with their bodies and personal liberties is not a good use of government resources. It drains time and attention away from our capacity to address the problems that keep Hoosiers up at night: making ends meet and putting food on the table. 

Let’s be clear. I believe marijuana and reproductive freedom would succeed when Hoosier voters weigh in. Why? Hoosiers don’t like the government telling them what to do. That’s beyond the point here, though. People care about having a say in the rules and laws that shape their lives. Hoosiers are energized to get out to the polls when they feel they have a true voice in decisions about their government and laws.

Even if not all legislators at the General Assembly care to listen to your individual voice, let me reassure you that the Indiana House Democratic Caucus does. In this upcoming legislative session, we will propose language to give you a voice at the polls on individual policy issues. Your voice matters – it’s time that Indiana state legislators recognize it. 

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