Lawmakers Hear Views on Indiana’s Marijuana Laws
Suggestions included legalizing the medical use of marijuana and reducing the state’s criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of the drug. State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who was troubled by the amount of money and time the judicial system spends on marijuana-related cases, called for the hearing earlier this year.
“As a state legislature, we should look at our reasons for banning marijuana,” Tallian said. “Are we trying to punish people or are we trying to prevent something?”
In 2006, it cost the Indiana criminal justice system $ 148.8 million to combat marijuana, according to a study by Jon Gettman, a professor at Shepherd University in West Virginia. Gettman is a former head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“Prohibition only works when society can effectively control the technology of production,” Gettman said in testimony before the legislature’s Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee. “Marijuana prohibition has no chance of being effective when people can grow marijuana in their homes and closets.”
In 2010, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized 60,844 cultivated marijuana plants in Indiana, the 15th-highest amount that year among the states.
Gettman said legalizing marijuana and taxing its use could raise about $ 50 million in annual revenue for the state.
“There is a rare consensus among economists of every political persuasion that legalization plus taxation would be such a policy that could work,” said Marc Bilodeau, an associate professor of economics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Indiana is considered to have some of the country’s strictest laws against marijuana possession, specifically in small doses. Possession of 1 ounce of marijuana can lead to a maximum sentence of one year and a maximum fine of $ 5,000.
And while there is discussion about changing Indiana’s marijuana penalties, some lawmakers don’t expect a radical shift in the law.
“We’re on the very high side on penalties of small quantities, so I question whether that is effective and whether we ought to rethink that,” said state Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville.
“But there’s a lot of political paralysis when you use the phrase ‘soft on crime.’ . . . I certainly hope we can think through the issue and try to use our resources the best we can for a safe environment and to discourage the use of marijuana,” Foley said.
His stance is supported by groups such as Yes MAMM, which stands for Mothers Against Meth and Marijuana.
“We’re not for legalizing marijuana, even if it’s for medical reasons, because marijuana is very addictive,” said Pastor Sarah Barbour, who started the Indianapolis organization five years ago. “We believe that healing comes through God and through holistic means, rather than through marijuana.”
But there’s still hope for those who want the state to someday legalize the drug.
Indianapolis resident Jordan Wier, 25, who sat outside the hearing due to a lack of room and watched the testimony on TV, says the time for reform is now.
Wier watched his father use marijuana to help him deal with the pain from a devastating disease.
“He was dying of pancreatic cancer, and they still put him in jail,” Wier said of his father. “It helped him through his last days and through the pains and struggles of his cancer, and I feel we have a good chance to finally change this law around.”
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