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Indiana: Both Parties Call For Lighter Penalties.


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US IN: In Indiana, Both Parties Call For Lighter Pot Penalties

 

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URL: http://www.mapinc.or...3/n037/a09.html

Newshawk: http://www.drugsense.org/donate.htm

Votes: 0

Pubdate: Sun, 20 Jan 2013

Source: Herald Bulletin, The (Anderson, IN)

Copyright: 2013 The Herald Bulletin

Contact: letters@heraldbulletin.com

Website: http://www.theheraldbulletin.com/

Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/3877

Authors: Maureen Hayden and Scott Smith

 

 

IN INDIANA, BOTH PARTIES CALL FOR LIGHTER POT PENALTIES

 

Mistakes As Teens Haunt Adults, Legislator Says

 

INDIANAPOLIS - On the subject of Indiana's marijuana laws, state Sen. Karen Tallian may be in the minority for the present, but even on the other side of the political aisle, she's gaining some allies.

 

The Michigan City Democrat has been in the media for her marijuana bill, which proposes turning most possession offenses into an infraction, the same as a speeding ticket. The law doesn't consider an infraction to be a criminal offense.

 

Tallian talks about a female constituent who, as a teen, was convicted of marijuana possession. Five years later, the young woman is being told her past offense disqualifies her for a teaching assistant position, Tallian said.

 

"Is this the kind of message we want to send to our kids? You make a mistake one time, and it can negatively affect your career for the rest of your life?" Tallian asked.

 

The idea of decriminalization, as opposed to outright legalization, appears to be gaining traction in Indiana. A 2012 survey by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University found 53 percent of Indiana residents support the idea of a ticket for possessing small amounts of marijuana, with 41 percent in opposition.

 

But the idea of decriminalization has found little traction in the General Assembly, replaced instead by a push to bring down penalties for pot and other drug crimes.

 

Under major legislation backed by prosecutors and police groups, the penalties for most felony-level marijuana crimes would be reduced to misdemeanors. And people caught possessing or selling the drug would no longer automatically lose their driver's license.

 

The bill, put forward by state Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, would roll back Indiana's marijuana laws - some of the toughest in the nation - that make possession a felony unless it's a first-time offense or the amount is less than 1 ounce.

 

That's significant, because in Indiana, unlike many states, the threat of prison still hangs over marijuana possession. The Indiana prison system processed more than 400 inmates in 2011 whose most serious offense was a felony possession charge.

 

Making laws more fair

 

The proposed changes are contained in a 422 page proposed overhaul of Indiana's criminal code, a document arrived at through four years of summer study sessions, failed legislation and research - a bill with a stated the goal of making punishment more proportionate to the crime.

 

Its backers say the goal is to reserve prison for the most serious offenders, while getting drug addicts and low-level offenders into treatment to reduce recidivism.

 

"What's fair is what's right, and this bill makes our laws more fair," Steele said.

 

Steele, the influential conservative chairman of the Senate courts and corrections committee, made headlines late last year when he called for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

 

Steele still supports the idea, saying it would save courts and prosecutors money by not having to go after small-time users. But he decided it wasn't politically palatable to his conservative colleagues.

 

So he pulled back on language he wanted to see in the larger, criminal-code reform bill that would have made possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less just a Class C infraction, punishable with a $500 fine and no jail time.

 

"Where I come from, $500 is serious money," said Steele. "Maybe to the big boys here Indianapolis it's not much, but down home it is."

 

Could drop to misdemeanor

 

Like Steele, Tallian questions the need to treat possession of small amounts of marijuana as a criminal offense, saying each year, Indiana courts have to process between 12,000 and 15,000 marijuana possession cases.

 

She questioned how valuable those prosecutions are to society, when studies show essentially no change in the past 40 years in marijuana use by college students.

 

"Every one of those cases requires the original arrest, the booking, the bail, a first court appearance and probably two more court appearances, prosecutorial review of the case and the sentence," Tallian said. "It costs a tremendous amount of time and money."

 

Steele said he doubts Tallian's bill will get out of committee, but some of its language could end up in an amendment to a larger, criminal-code reform bill.

 

Steele's bill deals with a host of drug offenses, not just with marijuana. For example, it proposes to change laws which punish someone caught near a school with a few grams of cocaine with a harsher penalty than a rapist.

MAP posted-by: Jo-D

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