NORML.ORG US IN: Easing Marijuana Laws
02 Aug 2011
The General Assembly’s attempt at comprehensive sentencing reform crashed and burned in the last session. So prospects for any effort to reduce criminal penalties look like a long shot. But a targeted attempt at addressing marijuana laws could fare better, provided the bill receives a good public discussion before the full legislature considers it.
Financially, Indiana needs marijuana sentencing reform. The legislature’s Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee heard last week that reducing or eliminating penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana could save up to $ 200 million a year in law enforcement and corrections costs.
Legalizing and taxing marijuana for medical use could bring in $ 50 million annually in sales tax revenues.
There’s also an opportunity for new jobs and revenue from the production of industrial hemp, in which stalks are used for fabric, paper, carpeting and more. Hemp seed and oil are used in food, body products, diesel fuel and more.
California lawmakers are considering a bill to approve industrial hemp farming in targeted areas of the state, but a California extension agent said the crop isn’t likely to be economically viable there. The Midwest is better suited to growing hemp because of rainfall levels, she told the Sacramento Bee.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has introduced federal legislation to amend the Controlled Substances Act, excluding industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. Industrial hemp includes no psychoactive drug qualities.
Sentencing reform for use of marijuana, however, is where the state’s most likely savings would be found. Indiana law makes conviction for possessing any amount of marijuana punishable by up to a one year in prison and a $ 5,000 fine, one of the nation’s most stringent standards.
A second conviction for possession, or possession of more than 30 grams ( 30 to 40 cigarettes ), can result in a three-year sentence. Department of Correction statistics from March showed 463 Indiana inmates whose most serious offense was a conviction for possession of marijuana.
“There’s a lot of money and time to be saved in our court system,” said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes. After a positive response from the lawmakers who heard testimony last week, Tallian told the Times of Northwest Indiana that she expects to sponsor a bill in the next session to address criminal sanctions.
“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 Rep. Ralph Foley, a Martinsville Republican.
“But there’s a lot of political paralysis when you use the phrase ‘soft on crime,’ ” he said. “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.”
Thinking through the issue – with wide public debate – holds the best prospect for reform. Thirteen states have reduced sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have approved its use for medical purposes.
As they weigh public sentiment for changing marijuana policy, Indiana lawmakers should consider both the fiscal and social implications. That’s not being soft on crime.
That’s being strong on responsibility.
MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.
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