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Our view: Marijuana law reform has merit

THE FIRST AMENDMENT

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Updated: January 11, 2013 6:07AM



A conversation about whether to decriminalize marijuana already was percolating in the Indiana Statehouse before State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell shared his thoughts on the matter with the State Budget Committee.

Whitesell, a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, went further than lawmakers might have expected, saying that, if left up to him, marijuana would be legalized and taxed.

Although state legislators are unlikely to embrace outright legalization (at least for now), recent public opinion polling shows that a majority of Hoosiers is ready to accept dropping criminal penalties against marijuana users who are found with small amounts of the drug.

Such a move gained fresh traction in the General Assembly this fall when two legislators — Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, and Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage — said they plan to introduce bills that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Current law calls for up to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for possession of up to 30 grams of the drug. Steele wants to reduce the maximum penalty to a $500 fine with no threat of jail time for carrying 10 grams or less.

Tallian has unsuccessfully pushed similar bills in the past that would have decriminalized holding up to 100 grams of marijuana. But a lot has changed this year. Not only is a conservative Republican — Steele — now on board with decriminalization, but voters in Colorado and Washington state went so far as to approve legalization of marijuana in November. A similar referendum failed in Oregon.

Steele approaches the issue from the perspective of a fiscal conservative, one who notes that convictions require the expense of involving the police, the courts and, in some cases, the corrections system.

Fifteen states — including Ohio, North Carolina and Nebraska — already have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The idea deserves serious consideration in Indiana.

The Indianapolis Star



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