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February 4, 2013

Will Indiana put pot in its place?

Republicans, Democrats call for lighter penalties

INDIANAPOLIS — On the subject of Indiana’s marijuana laws, state Sen. Karen Tallian may be in the minority for the present, but even on the other side of the political aisle, she’s gaining some allies.

The Michigan City Democrat has been in the media for her marijuana bill, which proposes turning most possession offenses into an infraction, the same as a speeding ticket. The law doesn’t consider an infraction to be a criminal offense.

Tallian talks about a female constituent, who as a teenager was convicted of marijuana possession. Five years later, the young woman is being told her past offense disqualifies her for a teaching assistant position, Tallian said.

“Is this the kind of message we want to send to our kids?  You make a mistake one time, and it can negatively affect your career for the rest of your life?” Tallian asked.

The idea of decriminalization, as opposed to outright legalization, appears to be gaining traction in Indiana. A 2012 survey by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University found 53 percent of Indiana residents support the idea of a ticket for possessing small amounts of marijuana, with 41 percent in opposition. 

But the idea of decriminalization has found little traction in the General Assembly, replaced instead by a push to bring down penalties for pot and other drug crimes. 

 

BACKING OFF?

Under major legislation backed by prosecutors and police groups, the penalties for most felony-level marijuana crimes would be reduced to misdemeanors. And people caught possessing or selling the drug would no longer automatically lose their driver’s license. 

The bill, put forward by state Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, would roll back Indiana’s marijuana laws — some of the toughest in the nation — that make possession a felony unless it’s a first-time offense or the amount is less than 1 ounce.

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