“Right to try” marijuana in Indiana? Governor and AG seeking answers

Marijuana plants growing at an Illinois marijuana cultivation center. (WTHR Photo/John Whalen)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Days after the president signed a national “Right to Try” bill into law, state officials are unsure how the new law will impact Hoosiers’ ability to access medical marijuana for life-threatening illnesses.

The Right to Try law allows terminally-ill patients to try experimental treatments that have not yet received final approval by the US Food and Drug Administration. To be eligible under the law, a drug must first pass an FDA phase one clinical trial. Marijuana is now in phase two trials as part of ongoing research by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

But based on federal law, Indiana currently considers marijuana to be a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it is illegal to use or possess.

Asked about the discrepancy and what it means for Hoosiers’ ability to use medical marijuana under the new federal Right to Try law, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb did not rule out the possibility of patients gaining access to medical marijuana in certain situations.

“I do think that someone who is suffering from an illness or reacting to chemotherapy, we need to make sure we’re doing all we can for them, but it needs to be done legally,” Holcomb said.

At the same time, the governor said Indiana and other states need guidance on how to handle the issue of medical marijuana in the context of the new federal law.

“I think the federal government needs to solve this once and for all before states continue with this hodge-podge inconsistent manner,” Holcomb told WTHR. “We need to have the federal government solve this so states can get at what could work… I have asked for the federal government to deal with this and I’m awaiting that.”

Indiana Attorney General Curtiss Hill has been an outspoken opponent of legalizing marijuana. The attorney general’s office responded to WTHR’s questions about the Right to Try law with a short statement: “Our office is currently analyzing the new federal ‘right-to-try’ law to determine what, if any, impact it has on current Indiana law.”

Even under the most lenient interpretation, accessing marijuana under the Right to Try law would be legal only for patients who are gravely ill.

"To access cannabis, they would need to be in ‘a stage of a disease or condition in which there is reasonable likelihood that death will occur within a matter of months, or a disease or condition that would result in significant irreversible morbidity that is likely to lead to severely premature death,'" Forbes reported.

The article also clarifies eligible patients would have "exhausted approved treatment options" and they would not be eligible "to otherwise participate in ongoing clinical trials on the drug because they don't meet inclusion criteria or live within geographic proximity of where the study is taking place."

New drugs generally undergo years of expensive testing before manufacturers seek and gain FDA approval to market them. But with the passage of Right to Try, eligible patients no longer have to wait.

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