1 Weed amongst the Trees: Marijuana in Bloomington, Indiana

By Jacob Herbert

A historically conservative state, Indiana has some of the harshest penalties for marijuana-related offenses in the country.  However, one exception to this conservatism is the city of Bloomington—a classic college town nestled in the beautiful wooded hills of southern Indiana. Through interviews and outside research, this paper examines marijuana’s black-market presence in Bloomington, specifically among college students. It finds that despite Indiana’s unfriendly attitude toward marijuana, the city’s residents are not deterred from obtaining or using it regularly.

Indiana law, along with federal law, officially categorizes marijuana as one of the most dangerous and illicit substances available on the black market.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug—the same level as heroin and LSD.1 Such a scheduling indicates that the federal government believes marijuana has no medical value and a high potential for abuse.2 This classification is the result of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which specifies how certain drugs should be treated, with marijuana scheduled under the highest possible restrictions.3 Indiana state law is no friendlier, as specified by Indiana Code § 35-48-4-10.  In Indiana, possession of under 30g (about one ounce) of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor, with possession of any greater amount resulting in a Class D felony.4 Indiana punishes commerce of marijuana just as harshly as possession, with any sale classified as a Class A misdemeanor.5 While the classification is the same, the sale of up to 30g of marijuana can land the offender in prison for up to 1 year with a $5000 fine, while possession in any amount can only lead to a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1000 fine.6  Punishments only become more severe with an increase in size, previous convictions, and proximity to a school.  A full chart of marijuana related penalties can be found in Appendix A.  In all, these laws constitute Indiana’s strict and long withstanding prohibition of marijuana.

This harsh stance does not appear likely to change anytime soon, with both the governor and legislature opposing legislation to decriminalize the substance.  In early 2019, bills filed in both the Indiana House and Senate sought to allow the use of medical marijuana and to decriminalize marijuana possession in small quantities.  Despite some bipartisan support, none of these bills even received a hearing.7  Governor Holcomb has expressed his strong opposition to marijuana legalization, stating that he will only consider changing Indiana’s laws if marijuana is first legalized federally.8  Interestingly, in that same press conference, Holcomb mentioned that he tried marijuana during his undergraduate years at Hanover College.9  It is intriguing that he was willing to confess to using a drug he opposes legalizing and that is classified at the same level as heroin.  There are two possible reasons for this.  The first is that most people, even his supporters who oppose legalization, consider the scheduling of marijuana unreasonable.  The second is something about him being in college mitigates the negative connotation of his use.  Perhaps it is because of the old cliché that it is normal to smoke weed in college.

Despite the best efforts of the law, school administration, and parents, do college students truly smoke a lot of marijuana?  One way to find out is to examine the marijuana market in the quintessential college town of Bloomington, IN.  Bloomington was selected because it holds the main campus of Indiana’s largest university—Indiana University—and was the most available for direct study.  Bloomington is also located only a few hours’ drive from multiple large metropolitan areas, making it an ideal candidate for studying the black market’s diverse supply chain.

To gain a firsthand insight on the black market in Bloomington, I interviewed several marijuana users.  To ensure the interviewees felt comfortable sharing their knowledge, the names and some personal details have been changed to hide their identities; however, all relevant details to this paper remain.  I attempted to gain as broad a perspective as possible when selecting the participants, seeking a diversity of subjects.  They come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, representing many communities from all around campus and the community.  Everyone I selected was either someone I knew directly or someone that I was connected to; in all cases, I was no more than one degree of separation from the interviewee prior to the survey.  I will detail their words and descriptions, comparing them with both Indiana law and external descriptions of the Bloomington marijuana market.

The first subject is Erica, a sophomore female from in-state. She lives in an off-campus apartment and uses marijuana moderately, meaning about once or twice per week. Erica first used marijuana in high school but smoked very seldomly until college, stating that it is much easier since leaving home.  She noted, “I almost never buy weed for myself. My friends usually smoke me out [use their weed when they smoke] and if they ask, I pay them a little. I do have my own dab pen though.” Although a couple of her friends deal in small quantities, Erica says she does not know where the weed she smokes comes from. When asked if she had any fear of being caught or punished, she stated that it is “constant in the dorms. But now that I’m out, I have basically no fear.  I’m from Indiana so I’m used to hiding it.”  When asked about the price of her weed, Erica said she doesn’t know much about the market but said she wouldn’t pay more than $10/g unless it was “something special.” Erica, living off-campus with many connections, has few barriers hindering her from regular marijuana use.

The the next subject, John, does not have such a luxury. John, who is from Indiana, is a freshman male living in a residence hall. John sells a moderate amount of marijuana but does not consider himself a known dealer. He smokes or vapes about “once every other day” after he finishes all his work. He started in high school as a heavy smoker and says that his use decreased since coming to college. When asked if he fears being caught, John said: “Yeah when I smoke outside it’s usually pretty sketch. Once you find a good spot though that feeling goes down a lot, but it’s still there. You can never smoke in the dorms, but I do hit carts.” He noted, like many other subjects, that it is virtually impossible to smoke in most residence halls without being caught due to the smell and smoke detectors in every room.  This leads many students to seek vapes infused with THC, the active chemical in marijuana, to attain their high without alerting authorities. These vapes, otherwise known as carts or dab pens, have come under scrutiny as they have purportedly caused multiple deaths across the country.10  John stated that he deals and uses these vapes. When I asked John how he knows his product is not going to kill him or his customers, he stated that it is the counterfeit carts that have been killing people. He says, “I’ve ripped enough carts to know when a cart is real. I just know the taste. If it’s a hard head hit, it probably has some pesticides in it. Real carts are more like real tree [marijuana].” He also claims all his carts come directly from California so he knows they are real.  When asked where he gets his marijuana, he said, “I got a couple plugs I met recently. A lot of my friends get their weed from me. The people I get it from sell in mass quantities.” While he knows that the carts come from California and any edibles he buys come from Michigan, he does not know the exact origin of his marijuana, but his best guess is that it mostly comes from Chicago by way of Indianapolis. As for the prices of his weed, he stated “I usually buy half ounces for $120 ($8-9/g) for top shelf. I won’t pay more than $90 for a half for mid-grade weed (about $7/g).” However, he noted that these prices are not static, but fluctuate with the supply and demand of the market. For example, he said that recently it has been harder to find weed, especially at the prices he is accustomed to paying: “Right now, it’s been a lot harder to find weed and the price has gone up a little bit. One of the higher up plugs probably got popped so now everyone’s scrambling.” He also commented on the presence of marijuana on campus generally: “There’s a shit ton of weed on campus. I’ve come into contact with more people who smoke weed than don’t smoke weed.” While his perspective may be limited as a freshman who smokes and sells marijuana, his strong observation indicates a high prevalence of marijuana on the IU campus and in the surrounding Bloomington neighborhoods. The first two subjects were in-state underclassmen—students who have grown up in and are used to an environment hostile to marijuana.

The next subject will show what happens when someone moves to Bloomington from a state where marijuana is legal. The third subject is Jane, a female in her junior year at Indiana University. Jane is from Los Angeles and is a member of a sorority on campus. While she lives in the sorority house, she spends most of her free time at her boyfriend’s off campus apartment. Jane is a daily smoker and while she started in high school, she smoked far less than she does now. She usually buys from her friends and pays around $25 for an eighth of an ounce. When asked if she knows where her weed comes from, she said, “When I’m in California yeah but not here.” Jane also noted that she fears being caught “a lot in Indiana but not in California. The only thing I have to worry about in California is my parents.” Her only comment regarding weed at IU is that “It’s done a lot here. It’s a common resource.”  This is another indicator that usage is high among students.

Now that a member of a sorority has been interviewed, our next subject will give insight to the other side of Greek life at IU: fraternities. The fourth subject is Brad, a sophomore male from Indiana. Brad is a member of a social fraternity and lives in the fraternity house. He has never smoked marijuana or used marijuana related products such as a dab pen. Brad says that while a lot of his friends smoke, he never feels pressured to join them. When asked if he could smoke weed if he wanted to, Brad said, “Yes, it would be very easy.” As for his opinion on marijuana, he said, “Honestly I’m not a huge fan of legalizing it for recreational use…but I am in full support of legalizing medical marijuana.” Despite not supporting the recreational use of the substance, many of his friends are users and he could easily access and use marijuana if he so chose, further indicating the prevalence marijuana among IU students.  So far, every subject has been from outside of Bloomington, limiting their perspective to that of a college student and not a lifelong resident.

The fifth subject, Mary, is a female senior at IU from Bloomington. Mary attended high school in Bloomington, and in her interview, she spoke mostly from the perspective of a long-term resident. She says she doesn’t smoke anymore but occasionally smoked while in high school and as an underclassman in college. Mary said that she was “very afraid” of being caught in high school but “people would only be busted if they were being stupid and noticeable.” As for whether she thought she’d be prosecuted if caught, she said, “In town, if it’s less than an ounce, the police will probably just take it because it’s not worth the trouble to prosecute it.” When asked where she got the marijuana, Mary noted that there was no single group of people who sold weed in high school, but that “Involved, preppy people did not deal. People with less to lose usually sell.” She did not know the origin of the weed but did say that she heard of people taking “cross-country drives” to get it legally in other states to sell illegally in Indiana. She noted that the Bloomington marijuana market is largely distinct from the IU market, stating that “Connections in town are so tight that, once one seller gets busted, others got paranoid and no one sells for a while” and that “At IU, if you don’t know someone that knows someone who sells weed, then you’re just not making friends.” This is an interesting point because it shows how much easier it is to obtain marijuana as a college student than as a regular resident. This difference does not seem to have adverse effects on the market, however, as our subject stated the average price of weed in town is set solidly at $10. This is interesting because the lack of price difference suggests that there is little arbitrage opportunity between the mostly separate markets.

However, if an IU dealer with a keen eye for the external Bloomington market notices when a dealer gets busted, there could be significant opportunity for profit. They would likely be able to charge higher prices due to the reduction in supply. The next subject may be one such observer, as he has insider information of the supply of marijuana in Bloomington. The sixth and final subject is Ron, a junior male from the east coast living in a house off campus. Ron uses marijuana “probably every day.” He started smoking in high school and his usage has been consistent since then. He says he used to be a mid-level dealer to other college students but has since curtailed his business to selling just enough to fund his own habit, stating “My friend got caught so now I just sell a little to smoke for free.”  This is at least partially out of a fear of being caught, saying, “I’m worried that someone’s gonna leak my name somehow to the cops.” Ron says he usually gets all his weed from his friend who is a “pretty big supplier for Bloomington.” As for pricing, he said that could get more complicated: “Eighth for $30 is pretty chill. $90-100 usually for a half. There is some top-notch stuff that goes for up to $350 an ounce though. If multiple people get in on an offer it’s cheaper to buy bulk.” When he does sell, he says that he almost always charges about $10/g. As for the origin of his weed, Ron said, “One of my guys gets it from California and the other gets it from Oregon, they just ship it out. Low grade and mids might come from in state. A lot of the weed probably comes from Chicago in Bloomington, sometimes through Indy. Some people will do cross country drives, but it’s tough. Most don’t do it. I don’t travel with anything anymore.” While he doesn’t much deal himself, Ron says that he now facilitates deals with others, noting that “Now I’m more of the middleman between people I know and the dealer.” He claims his new position is preferable because he no longer bears any risk of being caught for possession or sale while still making a modest commission off each deal he organizes. This is an interesting position in the black market as it shows the high importance of connections in the supply chain through direct monetization. When Ron is making money simply by organizing a deal and making connections, he contributes to an unexpected level of sophistication in the Bloomington marijuana market.

While not an official source, the marijuana enthusiast website webehigh.org details the nature of the Bloomington market. The site claims that both Bloomington Police and IUPD are more focused on alcohol and traffic violations than on marijuana. It also specifies where one can likely find marijuana, stating that some “liberal” dorms, apartments north and east of campus, and houses south of campus are good places to look, while most other dorms and the Greek housing north of campus are not. Their report says that on campus, one might find people asking for up to $25/g and $70 for an eighth.11 The site cautions that students should never tip off their RA that they possess or are looking to buy marijuana, as they will likely call IUPD, leading to fines, drug education classes, and potential arrests.

While Bloomington is considered far more liberal than its surroundings, this does not change how the Indiana State Police enforce the law.  In early October 2018, police seized over 60 pounds of weed and $110,000 cash from a single bust in Bloomington.12 In April 2019, police raided the Theta Chi fraternity house on N Jordan Ave., arresting a student and seizing large amounts of marijuana, among other drugs, and thousands of dollars in cash.13 In January 2018, an IUPUI alumnus was killed and an IU student was injured in a marijuana deal gone wrong at an off campus apartment.14 These events show that, while marijuana use is common, the black market surrounding the substance can still be quite perilous for those who choose to participate.  However, despite these dangers, along with the many laws and regulations prohibiting the use of marijuana in Bloomington, the market still thrives.

 

Appendix A

Marijuana related penalties in Indiana

Offense Penalty Incarceration   Max. Fine
Possession
CBD products with less than 0.3% THC None None $ 0
Any amount Misdemeanor 180 days $ 1,000
Less than 30 g and prior drug offense Misdemeanor 1 year $ 5,000
30 g or more and prior drug offense Felony 6 months – 2 1/2 years $ 10,000
CBD products containing less than 0.3 percent THC are exempt from the criminal code. See Penalty Details.
Conditional discharge may be available for first-time offenders.
Sale or Cultivation
CBD products with less than 0.3% THC None None $ 0
Less than 30 g Misdemeanor 1 year $ 5,000
30 g – less than 10 lbs Felony 6 months – 2 1/2 years $ 10,000
10 lbs or more Felony 1 – 6 years $ 10,000
To a minor Felony 1 – 6 years $ 10,000
CBD products containing less than 0.3 percent THC are exempt from the criminal code. See Penalty Details.
Prior drug offense carries a greater penalty. See details section for more information.

Source: https://norml.org/laws/item/indiana-penalties-2


  1. Lopez, German. “The Federal Government Won’t Change Marijuana’s ‘Schedule.” Here’s What That Means.” Vox. Vox, August 11, 2016. https://www.vox.com/2014/9/25/6842187/drug-schedule-list-marijuana.

  2. Lopez.

  3. “21 U.S. Code § 812 – Schedules of Controlled Substances.” Legal Information Institute. Legal Information Institute. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/812

  4. Indiana Code Title 35. Criminal Law and Procedure § 35-48-4-10. Findlaw. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://codes.findlaw.com/in/title-35-criminal-law-and-procedure/in-code-sect-35-48-4-10.html.

  5. Indiana Code Title 35.

  6. NORML. “Indiana Laws and Penalties.” The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://norml.org/laws/item/indiana-penalties-2.

  7. Herron, Arika. “Gov. Eric Holcomb Admits He’s Smoked Marijuana, Still Doesn’t Support Legalization.” Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis Star, February 27, 2019. https://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2019/02/27/indiana-governor-eric-holcomb-admits-he-smoked-marijuana-does-not-support-legalization/3004316002/.

  8. Herron.

  9. Herron.

  10. Epstein, Kayla, and Lena Sun. “California Man Is Seventh Person to Die of Suspected Vape-Related Illness.” The Washington Post. WP Company, September 18, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/09/17/vaping-death-california/.

  11. We Be High. “Bloomington, Indiana.” We Be High. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://webehigh.org/bloomington-in-indiana/.

  12. Mack, Justin L. “60 Pounds of Marijuana, $110K Seized in Bloomington Weed Bust.” Indianapolis Star, October 7, 2018. https://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2018/10/07/60-pounds-marijuana-110-k-seized-bloomington-weed-bust/1558016002/.

  13. Hardgrave, Alex. “Marijuana, Cocaine Found in Theta Chi House, IU Student Arrested for Dealing.” Indiana Daily Student, April 28, 2019. https://www.idsnews.com/article/2019/04/marijuana-cocaine-found-in-theta-chi-house-iu-student-arrested-for-dealing.

  14. Ryckaert, Vic. “Police: Man Killed, IU Student Injured in off-Campus Apartment in Marijuana Deal Gone Bad.” Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis Star, January 18, 2019. https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2019/01/18/man-killed-iu-student-shot-off-campus-apartment-bloomington-police-say/2614420002/.

Bibliography

“21 U.S. Code § 812 – Schedules of Controlled Substances.” Legal Information Institute. Legal Information Institute. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/21/812.

Epstein, Kayla, and Lena Sun. “California Man Is Seventh Person to Die of Suspected Vape-Related Illness.” The Washington Post. WP Company, September 18, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/09/17/vaping-death-california/.

Hardgrave, Alex. “Marijuana, Cocaine Found in Theta Chi House, IU Student Arrested for Dealing.” Indiana Daily Student, April 28, 2019. https://www.idsnews.com/article/2019/04/marijuana-cocaine-found-in-theta-chi-house-iu-student-arrested-for-dealing.

Herron, Arika. “Gov. Eric Holcomb Admits He’s Smoked Marijuana, Still Doesn’t Support Legalization.” Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis Star, February 27, 2019. https://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2019/02/27/indiana-governor-eric-holcomb-admits-he-smoked-marijuana-does-not-support-legalization/3004316002/.

“Indiana Code Title 35. Criminal Law and Procedure § 35-48-4-10.” Findlaw. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://codes.findlaw.com/in/title-35-criminal-law-and-procedure/in-code-sect-35-48-4-10.html.

Lopez, German. “The Federal Government Won’t Change Marijuana’s ‘Schedule.” Here’s What That Means.” Vox. Vox, August 11, 2016. https://www.vox.com/2014/9/25/6842187/drug-schedule-list-marijuana.

Mack, Justin L. “60 Pounds of Marijuana, $110K Seized in Bloomington Weed Bust.” Indianapolis Star, October 7, 2018. https://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2018/10/07/60-pounds-marijuana-110-k-seized-bloomington-weed-bust/1558016002/.

NORML. “Indiana Laws and Penalties.” The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://norml.org/laws/item/indiana-penalties-2.

Ryckaert, Vic. “Police: Man Killed, IU Student Injured in off-Campus Apartment in Marijuana Deal Gone Bad.” Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis Star, January 18, 2019. https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2019/01/18/man-killed-iu-student-shot-off-campus-apartment-bloomington-police-say/2614420002/.

We Be High. “Bloomington, Indiana.” We Be High. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://webehigh.org/bloomington-in-indiana/.

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Perspectives on Black Markets v.3 by Michael Morrone et. al. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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