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February 4, 2013

Will Indiana put pot in its place?

Republicans, Democrats call for lighter penalties

(Continued)

INDIANAPOLIS —

“Every one of those cases requires the original arrest, the booking, the bail, a first court appearance and probably two more court appearances, prosecutorial review of the case and the sentence,” Tallian said. “It costs a tremendous amount of time and money to prosecute these cases.”

Steele said he doubts Tallian’s bill will get out of committee, but some of its language could end up in an amendment to the larger criminal-code reform bill that he’s pushing hard to pass. 

Steele’s bill deals with a host of drug offenses, not just with marijuana. For example, it proposes to change laws which punish someone caught near a school with a few grams of cocaine with a harsher penalty than a rapist. 

Getting caught selling marijuana near a school is currently a Class C felony, which carries a prison term of two to eight years. In the criminal-code reform bill, it would drop to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by no more than a year in jail. 

 

GOING NOWHERE?

Decriminalizing marijuana is likely to find little support in the General Assembly.

It’s opposed by Steele’s counterpart in the House, Republican state Rep. Greg Steuerwald of Avon, who is sponsoring legislation identical to Steele’s bill. 

And it’s strongly opposed by the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, whose members played a key role in derailing legislation two years ago that would have softened drug penalties.

The council also played a critical role in crafting the framework for the current criminal-code reform bill. 

“We were absolutely united in our opposition to decriminalization,” said Dave Powell, the council’s executive director.

Andrew Cullen, legislative liaison for the Indiana Public Defenders Council, said crimes should be treated in “proportion to the harm they cause in society.”

“No one is in favor of the use of drugs, but we [need] to incarcerate people who are public safety threats, and not just citizens we’ve become upset with,” Cullen said.

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