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June 24, 2013

HAYDEN: Marijuana issue keeps cropping up at statehouse

(Continued)

But Republican authors of the sweeping criminal-code reform bill that passed were ready to pull down the penalties for marijuana crimes until Republican Gov. Mike Pence stepped in with a veto threat. 

Tallian is ready to revive her proposal in the next session. In doing so, she’ll likely cite a recent American Civil Liberties Union report documenting racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests. Using the FBI Uniform Crime Reports from 50 states, the ACLU found black Americans were nearly four times as likely be to arrested on pot possession charges as white Americans — even though marijuana use is about the same for both groups. 

The report found no decline in pot-smoking over the last 40 years of the drug war, and it estimates that local communities, combined, are spending more than $3 billion a year to enforce pot laws. It also urges states like Indiana to license and regulate marijuana, legalizing it for people 21 or older.

Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill, who is black and lives in the Indiana county with the highest racial disparity reported in the ACLU report, thinks that’s a terrible idea. He’s been prosecuting drug and other crimes for almost 25 years and worries that legalization will drive up marijuana use, especially by teenagers. “We don’t need more people walking around dazed, in some foggy haze,” Hill said. “We’re better than that.” 

Research on Hill’s concern is mixed. Some studies show increased marijuana use after decriminalization; others contradict those findings.

I don’t smoke pot and I wasn’t a teenage pothead. But I have schoolmates who were, so I found this interesting: Earlier this year, when the Michigan legislature was debating a bill to decriminalize marijuana throughout the state, Ann Arbor’s mayor told a local radio station that the city had a lot more problems with alcohol abusers than marijuana users. 

— Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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