State Senator Asks: Should Indiana Legalize Marijuana?

An Indiana state senator is asking a question she hopes could spur debate over sentencing laws, and possibly save the state millions of dollars in the process: Should marijuana be legalized?

Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) is sponsoring a bill that would direct the criminal law and sentencing study committee to examine Indiana’s marijuana laws next summer and come up with recommendations, reports Deanna Martin of the Associated Press.
“We need to think about this,” Tallian said. “We’re cutting essential services out of the budget now, and it may not make sense to spend millions of dollars prosecuting marijuana cases.”
Senate Corrections Committee Chairman Brent Steele (R-Bedford) said he would give Tallian’s proposal a legislative hearing, despite the fact that Democrats are badly outnumbered in the Senate. He said the study could help lawmakers decide if they should explore the issue, but noted that “even in California,” a proposal to legalize marijuana failed. (Yes, it’s coming true, as we predicted: The failure of Prop 19 is now being used as a talking point by prohibitionists.)
“Quite frankly, in a more conservative state like Indiana I can’t imagine it passing,” Steele said.
Tallian’s bill would direct the summer study committee to examine the issue and determine:
• Marijuana’s effects on Indiana’s criminal justice system
• Whether possession and use of marijuana should continue to be illegal in Indiana and if so, what penalties are appropriate
• Whether Indiana should create a medical marijuana program
• Whether marijuana should be completely legalized and treated like alcohol, with regulated sales and special taxes.
Tallian said current marijuana sentencing is not proportionate to the crime. Indiana offenders face up to a year in jail for possession of less than 30 grams. Those possessing more than that can get up to three years in prison.
There are about 10,000 to 13,000 marijuana cases each year in Indiana, according to Tallian, with 85 percent of those being simple possession. She had no estimate of how much it costs the state to prosecute and house nonviolent marijuana offenders, but guessed Indiana could save millions of dollars.
“I’m tired of seeing people thrown in jail for what I think is something that’s the equivalent of alcohol,” Tallian said.
“Legislators can study whatever they choose to study,” a spokesman for Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels said dismissively. “It’s their decision.”
Tallian said the public’s attitude toward cannabis is changing, but acknowledged it can take years for controversial proposals to gain traction in the Legislature. Since her bill simply creates a study to explore the issue, any legislation to actually change Indiana’s marijuana laws would have to wait until next year, at the earliest.
“It’s just a study committee,” she said.
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