Pharos-Tribune

Local News

March 31, 2013

Statehouse debate over pot penalties isn’t over

Portage senator vows to bring bill back next year.

INDIANAPOLIS — The politics of pot may keep Indiana lawmakers from rolling back the state’s tough marijuana laws this session, but it won’t eradicate the push for decriminalization.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, a Democrat from Portage, has vowed to bring back a bill next year that would turn most marijuana possession offenses into an infraction, the same as a speeding ticket.

Tallian is convinced her proposal, first introduced two years ago, is gaining traction among the public — and with some conservative legislators — despite opposition from Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

“Just look the polling on this issue,” Tallian said, referring to recent polls that show increasing support among Hoosiers for lowering pot penalties. “The public is in favor of this.”

Late last week, in response to Pence’s criticism of legislation that rewrites Indiana’s criminal code to lower drug penalties, a Senate committee amended the bill to make punishment for marijuana crimes tougher than the legislation’s Republican authors had originally proposed.

“The governor is the only one who’s been talking about tougher penalties for drug crimes,” said Tallian, a lawyer and grandmother. “Across the country, the train is moving in the opposite direction.”

Fifteen states have reduced marijuana possession to a fine-only offense. This year alone, legislative chambers in four states have passed measures to reclassify minor marijuana offenses as non-criminal violations, punishable by a fine only.

Nearly a dozen other states are currently considering legislation to legalize the consumption of marijuana by adults and regulate its retail production and sale. Two states that have legalized pot for recreational use by adults are looking at ways to tax it.

The Indiana General Assembly wasn’t ready to go that far, but it had been moving to lessen pot penalties this session.

In February, the Republican-controlled House approved House Bill 1006, which rewrites Indiana’s criminal code to lower drug penalties and toughen punishment for violent and sex offenders.

The bill contained language that made most of the state’s marijuana crimes into misdemeanors. Bill supporters say the intent of the bill is divert drug users out of state prisons and into treatment programs, while reserving the prisons for the worst offenders.

Pence waited till mid-March to weigh in on House Bill 1006 and did so at a press briefing with TV and radio reporters, telling them: “I think we need to focus on reducing crime, not reducing penalties.”

In response to the criticism, the Senate courts and corrections committee amended House Bill 1006 last week, to push back up some of the marijuana penalties contained in the bill. The committee left intact the lower penalties for other drug crimes.

House Bill 1006 didn’t decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, as Tallian wanted. But it almost did: One of the bill’s strongest supporters, conservative Republican Sen. Brent Steele of Bedford, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had drafted decriminalization language to add to the bill.

Steele said he backed off when he didn’t think he could get the support from the bill’s sponsors.

But both Steele and Tallian thought there was enough support for lowering the state’s marijuana penalties, which are some of the toughest in the nation.

Both cited the shift in public opinion, as evidenced in the October 2012 Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll that showed 54 percent of voters agreed with decriminalizing marijuana, while 37 percent disagreed.

Steele and Tallian also cited the relief it would provide to local courts that process more than 12,000 marijuana possession cases each year.

“What’s fair is what’s right, and this bill makes our laws more fair,” Steele said of the original House Bill 1006.

Under current Indiana law, possessing marijuana is a felony unless it’s a first-time offense or under one ounce. As originally drafted, House Bill 1006 dropped all the marijuana possession charges down to a misdemeanor level.

It also made a first-time offense of possessing less than one ounce of marijuana into a class C misdemeanor punishable with up to 60 days in jail. Currently, it’s a class A misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to a year in prison.

Pence was particularly critical of the original bill’s language that dropped possession of up to 10 pounds of marijuana from its current felony level down to a class A misdemeanor.

Under changes made by the Senate courts and corrections committee last week, most of the penalties have been pushed back up a level but are still lower than what the current law calls for. Possessing between one-third of an ounce and 10 pounds is now a class D felony, with a prison sentence between six months and 2.5 years.

Andrew Cullen is the legislative liaison for the Indiana Public Defender Council, which worked with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council to help craft the original House Bill 1006.

Cullen hopes the changes made by the Senate committee last week are enough to keep Pence from vetoing the bill. The marijuana drug penalties are just a small part of a massive piece of legislation that also includes tougher penalties for murderers, rapists, sex offenders, and other violent criminals. It’s the first rewrite of the state’s criminal laws since 1978.

“This is Indiana’s first opportunity to do something big in criminal justice reform in 35 years,” said Cullen. “It’s perplexing that Gov. Pence focused on minor drug offenses as his number one concern when we have the opportunity to reshape criminal justice in the state of Indiana.”

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Pharos-Tribune eEdition, or our print edition

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • NWS-PT041814 LC50 cords.jpg 50 years later WALTON -- Dean "D.A." Zehring graduated from the current Lewis Cass High School, but he never attended classes there. It's one of the unique characteristics of the graduating class of 1968, the first class to complete all four years of high school un

    April 18, 2014 3 Photos

  • Caston considers Logan bus stop FULTON -- Caston Schools administrators are considering establishing a bus stop a few miles outside its boundaries on the north side of Logansport. The school board recently discussed the feasibility of adding a bus stop for students transferring fro

    April 18, 2014

  • mushroom Parks let mushroom hunters forage off-trail INDIANAPOLIS - Rain that pounded Brown County State Park in early April dampened the number of hikers and mountain bikers in Indiana's largest state park, but foragers of the property's 15,000 acres of forest welcomed the weather. With the arrival o

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Police blotter: April 17, 2014 Have a tip? Anyone with information on a crime is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS. Information leading to an arrest or conviction could lead to a reward of up to $1,000.

    April 17, 2014

  • NWS-PT041714 G.jpg Sign of support: Class meant to connect hearing-impaired family members Jordanna Dishner-Rush gestured forcefully to a coat rack hanging in the back of the meeting room at the Logansport Library. She was trying to use just hand motions — no speech — to get the other women to guess the secret word she'd been given. Dishne

    April 17, 2014 12 Photos

  • Logansport graduation rate rises again Logansport High School's graduation rate jumped almost 2 percentage points to 92.9 percent in 2013, data released Wednesday show. The Indiana Department of Education released graduation data for the 2012-2013 school year Wednesday. The data show that

    April 17, 2014

  • NWS-PT041714 Mustangs.jpg Local dealer celebrates the Mustang Fifty years ago today, the Ford Mustang was introduced to the public at the New York World's Fair. Now, six of them will be on display for the next few weeks at Rick's Auto Sales in Logansport celebrating what the business owner says is a half centur

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Redevelopment commission proposes new TIF expansion The Logansport Redevelopment Commission is now considering including land surrounding Water Street in a proposed consolidation of the city's tax increment financing districts. A tax increment financing, or TIF, district, captures the increments of an

    April 17, 2014

  • Bids under budget for Carroll project FLORA -- Bids came in under budget for a two-year construction project set to start this summer at Carroll Consolidated Schools. Fourteen construction bids chosen at the Carroll school board's meeting Tuesday night added up to $7,283,628, well under

    April 17, 2014

  • Bunker Hill parents charged with neglect BUNKER HILL — A month-long investigation by Indiana State Police Detective Mike Tarrh recently resulted in the arrests of Richard Avery Jr., 30, and Heather Avery, 28, both of Bunker Hill. Police say they received information from the Miami County Di

    April 16, 2014

Featured Ads
More pharostribune.com
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
AP Video
Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Crew Criticized Over Handling of Ferry Disaster Agreement Reached to Calm Ukraine Tensions Raw: Pope Francis Performs Pre-easter Ritual Raw: Bulgarian Monastery Dyes 5000 Easter Eggs Diplomats Reach Deal to Ease Tensions in Ukraine U.S. Sending Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine Military Holder: Americans Stand With KC Mourners Obama Greets Wounded Warriors Malaysia Plane: Ocean Floor Images 'Very Clear' Sparks Fly With Derulo and Jordin on New Album Franco Leads Star-studded Broadway Cast Raw: Two Lucky Kids Get Ride in Popemobile Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later Sister of Slain MIT Officer Reflects on Bombing
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Poll

Should e-cigarette marketing be regulated like tobacco?

Yes
No
Unsure
     View Results
eEdition