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Senator's bill would ease penalty for pot possession

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An Indiana senator introduced legislation Tuesday that would decriminalize possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana—an amount large enough to get the attention of at least one national anti-drug advocate.

Sen. Karen Tallian’s proposal, Senate Bill 580, would reduce the penalty for possession of less than 2 ounces, or 56 grams, of pot to an infraction punishable by a fine. Broken down, an ounce typically yields 30 to 60 marijuana cigarettes depending on their size and the quality of the pot.

Fourteen states have decriminalized various amounts of marijuana, but most use 1 ounce as the limit before tougher penalties kick in.

Calvina Fay of the Drug Free America Foundation said that loosening marijuana laws sends the wrong message, and Tallian’s proposal won't help.

“Two ounces is a significant amount of marijuana to possess at one time,” she said. “Where is the line? Is it 2 ounces, is it 1 ounce? To keep it illegal … is the better thing to do as a whole.”

Currently in Indiana, possessing 30 grams—roughly an ounce—or less of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor on the first offense and carries a sentence of up to one year in prison. Possession of more than 30 grams is a Class D felony that carries a sentence of one to three years.

Tallian’s bill also would eliminate the $3.50-per-gram tax on industrial hemp production.

The Indiana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws issued a written statement applauding Tallian’s efforts. The group said decriminalization is the first step toward taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, which would “bring millions of new dollars into Indiana’s government and create thousands of new jobs.”

Some lawmakers are taking a more lenient view of low-level pot possession and its impact on the prison system.

Republican State Sen. Brent Steele, for instance, said he plans to introduce legislation that would make possession of 10 grams or less an infraction, rather than a criminal misdemeanor.

“I don’t think mere possession alone is worth involving the entire judicial system and all that’s involved with it,” Steele told IBJ in September.

The 10 grams that Steele is targeting is the equivalent of a little more than one-third of an ounce.

Fay said her group does not support incarceration for first-time offenders carrying small amounts, noting that many drug courts already offer alternatives such as probation, community service or treatment.

“Nobody’s advocating that low-level offenders should be serving years and years in prison,” she said. “What we’re saying is hold them accountable by keeping it illegal.”

Tallian, D-Portage, is no stranger to the marijuana legalization debate. She pushed for a summer study group in 2011 and last session introduced a bill that would have decriminalized possession of even a larger amount, 3 ounces.

Tallian said she’s open to lowering the amount in the current bill.

“I wanted to put in something that seemed reasonable compared to what other states are doing, but also would leave me room for negotiation,” Tallian said. “I’m hoping it will make it a little more enticing.”

Tallian’s current bill has been referred to the Senate’s Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law.
 

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  • Huh?
    Also, I don't see this doing a whole lot for the real estate market. If I am a person from another state, and I am passionate enough about cannabis to move another state, wouldn't I move to a Colorado or Washington, where I can smoke in my home without fear of reprisal? Why would I move to Indiana, where I would not be allowed to grow my own, and can still be ticketed(note: for a first offence)and possibly be sent to drug "treatment" or jailed for susequent offences? I say this as a supporter of full legalization. I am simply playing devil's advocate. If you are going to support a bill, know what you are supporting. This is a step in the right direction, but still gives law enforcement the ability to tell us cannabis is "wrong" and "bad". This is 2013. Cannabis can be a real cash commodity for this state. Job creation and tax revenue are two real word effects that Hoosiers are passing up by not demanding that cannabis be fully legalized, taxed, and regulated like alcohol.
  • About time, but more could be done.
    Incorrect, a decriminalization bill does nothing to create new jobs or tax revenue because it does not create a legally regulated market.It may save some law enforcement dollars. Decrim is not the same as legalization. In the eyes of the state, cannabis is still seen as "wrong" and "immoral". I applaud the senator for her efforts, this is the first step in the right direction. Hopefully in the years to come, Hoosiers will wake up and tell the general assembly to catch up with the rest of the country.
  • Finally
    I'm glad to know politicians in indiana are beginning to open their eyes to how profitable decriminalization can be. Not only will a completely new job market open up, but due to the change, the population will increase, raising the real estate market. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
    • finally
      this would save tax payors a lot of money. prosecuting for small amounts is a big waste of tax dollars. it should be 1 ounce
    • It's High Time...
      ...the government finally stopped spending so much on dealing with such minor infractions by otherwise law-abiding citizens!
    • Timing is Everything
      I wonder what would have happened had this come up while former Governor Daniels was in office. Since he got busted for pot in college, I wonder if he would sign the bill whilst roasting a big fat monster! Probably not, but it's humorous to think about.
    • I Vote Yes
      It's about time. There is absolutely no need to waste law enforcement resources on small amounts of pot. Cops ought to be going after bad guys. Millions of perfectly normal people, young and old alike, have at least tried it. Law enforcement should be more focused on the stuff that kills people, like meth and heroin. My kids (both college graduates) tell me heroin's making a big comeback because Oxycontin is harder to get these days.
    • Something sensible
      I agree with decriminalizing marijuana. Marijuana, while not completely harmless, should not constitute a criminal offensive for possession. Law enforcement and judicial resource are better spent elsewhere.

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