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February 25, 2013

HAYDEN: Marijuana’s movement

INDIANAPOLIS — In the flurry of activity at the Statehouse in recent weeks, I missed reporting some sad news for stoners: The legislation to decriminalize marijuana is dead. 

State Sen. Karen Tallian’s bill to make possession of two ounces of marijuana into an infraction, like a speeding ticket, died when it didn’t get a hearing in the Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law before a critical deadline passed. 

Tallian’s response was anything but mellow. The Democratic grandmother from Ogden Dunes told The Times of Northwest Indiana reporter Dan Carden, “I don’t understand why they refused to even hear it. We have certainly heard some really idiotic bills in that committee.” 

Setting aside the question of idiocy in the General Assembly, here’s news that may hearten those who’ve been following the pot debate:  Legislation that would roll back Indiana’s marijuana laws — some of the toughest in the nation — is still very much alive. 

Tucked inside a 400-plus-page bill to overhaul Indiana’s criminal code is language that would turn most felony-level marijuana crimes into mere misdemeanors. It puts an end to the reefer madness of a past General Assembly that made possession of marijuana a felony if you’d been caught once before or had more than one ounce.  

So it would still be a crime to get caught with cannabis, but no longer a crime that could land you in prison or make you automatically lose your driver’s license. 

The four co-authors of the criminal code reform bill make for an interesting alliance. The two conservative Republican authors are Hendricks County lawyer Greg Steuerwald and former deputy prosecutor Jud McMillin of Brookville. The two liberal Democratic authors are Bloomington lawyer Matt Pierce and retired Hammond police officer Linda Lawson. 

They all had a role to play in crafting a bill that’s been several years in the making and has won strong bipartisan support. The full House is expected to vote on the bill today, then send it to the Senate where the legislation has strong allies. 

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