State Government and Public Safety and Government & Economic Development and Government and Health Care & Life Sciences

Indiana Senate panel advances marijuana, meth bills

February 15, 2011

A state Senate committee on Tuesday backed having the state crime policy panel study whether Indiana should legalize marijuana after hearing a legislator with multiple sclerosis say he wished he could legally try the drug to relieve his pain.

The committee also approved a bill requiring computerized tracking of cold medications used in making methamphetamine rather than mandating prescriptions, as some law enforcement groups urged.

The Senate's criminal law committee voted 5-3 to advance to the full Senate the bill directing the criminal law and sentencing study committee to examine Indiana's marijuana laws next summer and make recommendations.

Bill sponsor Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said she was concerned about the undetermined millions of dollars state and local governments were spending each year on police, prosecutors, courts and jails to enforce marijuana laws.

"We need to be able to say to the citizens of Indiana, 'This is how much it's costing us and is this where you want to spend your money and your tax dollars?'" Tallian said.

Rep. Tom Knollman, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a walker, told committee members he regarded himself one of the most conservative members of the Legislature but that he believed legalizing marijuana for medical uses should be considered.

He said he has spent up to $25,000 a year on pain medication that often is ineffective.

"I hear that one of God's plants is working to help ease the pain of multiple sclerosis," said Knollman, R-Liberty. "I know when my leg starts twitching and I hurt, I'm looking for any alternative."

Several law enforcement groups, meanwhile, said the ongoing fight against illegal methamphetamine production would be helped by requiring prescriptions to buy cold medicines with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.

Former Vigo County Sheriff Jon Marvel testified that meth cookers have gotten around existing purchase limits on those medicines by paying others to buy for them.

"We're chasing our tails," Marvel said. "We've forced the bad guys to expand their criminal enterprise by bringing more people in buying their lawful amount of pseudoephedrine."

State police reported nearly 1,400 meth labs were seized in Indiana last year. That is up more than 70 percent since 2006 after lab seizures had declined following a new state law requiring those buying pseudoephedrine products to sign pharmacy logs and produce identification.

Supporters of electronic tracking argued requiring prescriptions would increase medicine costs and be inconvenient for sick people. They also said requiring prescriptions hasn't prevented the abuse of drugs such as the painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin.

"It doesn't seem to slow down anything else," said Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis.

Some law enforcement groups don't agree on the best course of action. The Indiana Sheriffs Association favored electronic tracking, while the state police and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council support requiring prescriptions.

Under the bill, stores selling the cold medications would have to report by computer attempts to buy those cold medications and not complete the sale if the tracking system notifies them that the customer has already purchased their legal maximum.

The committee voted 9-0 to advance the electronic tracking bill, even though at least three senators on the panel said they favored tougher standards. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

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