Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Westside

April 10, 2013

Debate over pot penalties continues

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.”

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.

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