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Criminal-sentencing overhaul may get tougher on pot

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Tougher marijuana possession and dealing penalties could be added to a proposed overhaul of Indiana's criminal sentencing laws by legislators after Gov. Mike Pence questioned whether the plan was strict enough on low-level drug offenders.

The proposal aims to direct more people convicted of low-level felonies to work release and other local programs rather than sending them to prison. It also would require those convicted of the most serious crimes to spend more time in prison.

But the state Senate's Criminal Law Committee discussed a change Tuesday that would increase the felony and misdemeanor levels of marijuana dealing and possession charges.

One proposed change expected to be voted on Thursday would make possession of between about one-third of an ounce and 10 pounds of marijuana the lowest-level felony rather than the highest-level misdemeanor.

Pence told reporters last week that he believed the sentencing overhaul bill should send a message that the state is tough on drug dealers.

Sen. Brent Steele, who has backed making possession of small amounts of marijuana an infraction rather than a misdemeanor, said he was comfortable with the proposed change that was prompted by Pence's stance.

"He'd obviously read the bill and had problems with it," said Steele, R-Bedford. "Quite frankly, there were problems some of us on the committee were having with it. It wasn't surprising."

The House approved the bill by a wide margin last month with support from many of the chamber's most conservative and most liberal members.

Bill sponsor Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, told the Senate committee that the overhaul aimed to put those convicted of non-violent crimes into treatment and probation programs in their home counties rather than sending them to the state prison system for short stays.

"This bill is not soft on crime by any means," Steuerwald said. "We have ramped up the penalties on rape, child solicitation, child seduction, sexual battery, sexual misconduct with a minor. All those things are amped up."

Provisions of the plan include dropping the state's current four-tier system of felonies that range from class A, the most serious felonies with the longest sentences, to class D.

It would be replaced by a six-tier system, with class 1 being the most serious.

Supporters say the changes will allow the punishment ranges to be more refined and appropriate for the severity of the crime, while also stemming growth in the state's inmate population and delaying the need to build any new prisons.

Another provision of the new proposal would require that felons serve at least 75 percent of their sentences, up from the 50 percent or less that prisoners might now serve if they earn good time and education credits while behind bars.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and other law enforcement groups are supporting the bill this year after their previous opposition scuttled legislators' overhaul attempts the past two years.

However, Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said he worried the proposed overhaul will leave the state Department of Correction with too many longtime inmates and not meet the goal of reducing prison costs. Landis said he worried that Pence wasn't aware of the value of not exposing low-level offenders to high-risk criminals in prison.

"Lowering penalties and lower crime are not mutually exclusive," Landis said. "You can do both at the same time if you target the right population."

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  • um....
    Someone already has a patent on medical cannabis. The united states government... Look it up.
  • really
    most of mike's neighborhood buddies from columbus would now have a felony conviction on their record if the 1/3 oz rule was the law back in the day.....:)
  • Amen.
    Finally, someone with the character to tell the truth.
  • Actually I'm encouraged in some ways
    1) the nearly universal negative reaction in these comments to an article that was a bit slanted in Pence's favor give me hope for Indiana and fellow Hoosiers. 2) The GOP kind of needs to bring young people into the fold. These days a lot of conservatives who are younger (older ones too, though, who 'get' the whole liberty concept) have a libertarian bent and rightly believe the war on drugs is a colossal failure and embarassment to the country. So if you're not a member of the GOP, this is like watching The GOP accidentally shoot itself in the foot at the gun show trying to show off to people who already are on board with their cause to begin with, further alienating potential converts. That said, the harm this will do to many people's lives in exchange for some money from the prison industry is so contemptible I'd prefer a less insane GOP even though that'd make them more competitive and viable in the future.
  • This law is not targeting drug traffickers
    Our nation has an unhealthy obsession with incarcerating our own population over minor offenses. This law is not set to target drug traffickers who are importing and transporting large quantities of illegal substances across borders with the intent to distribute, but instead seeks to punish the free honest working Americans who, as adults, made a decision to use the plant for recreational purposes. Sure building jails creates jobs, but lets reserve the cells for people who actually deserve to be locked up like rapists and killers (if we did that im sure we would only need a fraction of the jails already in existence). And for those who think jail will "help" drug users, remember that our nation already has organizations designed to deal with these problems, they are called Drug Rehabilitation Centers... and the best part is, the user pays for their own recovery!
  • TKW
    The "other guy," John Gregg was not a stooge. He had many years in the state senate and knew how to get things done in the General Assembly. Pence had demonstrated that he is incompetent and most definitely a stooge.
  • Paying back bribes to the GEO group
    For a state thats always too broke to improve schools its nice to see there is plenty of cash to give the for profit prison industry...maybe they can use the money to repair the damage from the last riot.
  • Duh
    This has always been the law. Under 30 grams is a class a misdemeanor, over 30 is a d felony. Indiana
  • Leave it to Indiana
    I'm from Brownsburg originally. Leave it to Indiana to march straight back into the past, reinforcing bad laws and bad policy. One of the most backward states in the Union.
    • Citizen Action Against this Bill
      https://www.facebook.com/pages/Impeach-Mike-Pence-Indiana-Governor/ Please call the governor and state legislature representatives and help prevent this from passing!
    • Stooge you say?
      Yes the other guy WAS a stooge. But I am increasingly convinced that by the time they make it to Congress, either chamber, they all are owned and spoken for stooges.
    • Reply to Republican.......
      Some Medical benefiets? If you think it only has some then you need to look up Rick Simpson of Facebook or Youtube. Facebook has hundreds of testimony of people curing cancer and many other deseases. Googe Cannabis Cures Cancer and see what pops up. There is allot of Medical value. Uncurable Brain Tumors to Epilepsy.
    • What are they Thinking?
      I dont know what they are thiinking? My only guess is that the Governor wants more people to have felonies on thier record so they cant vote him out of office. This is a joke, this was suppost to reduce the penalty for marijuana, and once it gets votes they change it. Its an abuse of the system! Mike Pence feels real comfortable now, beings elections was last Nov. Wait though, you want a bunch of inocent people to be criminals with felony records, you will have allot of anti-Pence pepople out there. Mike Pence, I think you should be Impeached! Marijuana should not be a crime at all. And Bill 580 will come back up. And hopefully more will come up for MMJ. The majority of Indiana wants it to be decriminalized, medical, and even legal, so no matter what you do eventually it will! I'm not even going to go into the whole upping the prison sentence guideline. Waisting money and ruining lives!
    • Twitter storm
      This is just absolute stupidity. He's working on his presidential run bona fides for the Republican party. If you think that this is a bad idea, let Mike know by tweeting to @GovPenceIN.
    • MONEY FIGHT!!!
      Nice. Well, the corporate prison complex is going to have to make up all those lost revenues from pot being legalized in Colorado and Washington somehow. It's a good time to be an Indiana politician. Here comes all that sweet, sweet lobbying money they no longer need to spend in CO & WA! MONEY FIGHT!!!
    • Hello
      Hard to believe anyone could be surprised by the bigoted, short-sighted, illogical, fantasical positions of Republicans in general and Pence in particular.They are not consistent conservatives, but they consistently fear-monger and gerrymander themselves into controlling state government. And I am a registered Republican!
    • GEGJR Response
      I didn't vote for him, but didn't think he would go against even hie predecessor and current party guidance to prove his idiocy
    • The War on Pot.. That suprises you why?
      I don't see how anyone that voted for him can act like this is a surprise.
      • What is a drug dealer?
        You are a professional growing your own to avoid having to buy it from the "criminal element". You need it due to back problems that are hereditary. Now that you have a few growing plants you are classified as a drug dealer.
      • Legalize and Tax Marijuana
        I am not convinced that smoking marijuana is any more harmful than drinking alcohol. Smoking marijuana seems to have some medical benefits as can be seen from the number of states that have legalized it for medicinal purposes.
        • My Bad!
          As an independent voter, I voted for Pence because 1). he promised to expand upon on Daniels' legacy, was to promote sound fiscal policy and lay off of social issues, and 2). the other guy was a stooge. Pence clearly lied and a whole bunch of us bought into it. So now Pence has two strikes against him. Strike one is the looney-tune, tea party backed 10% income tax cut (instead of a rebate to be named later, which makes a lot more sense economically). Strike two is making marijuana laws stricter, when the rest of the states are going the other way. What voting block is he going for there -- the snake-handlers? The Republicans need to find someone to run against this guy in the primary, because we know strike three is coming. I truly regret voting for him.
          • Pence Smoking....
            I love it. What is Pence smoking? Thanks for the laugh Sara. What is he up to anyway? Is it like others say, the money he receives from the private prison builders? I knew we were in trouble with his hypocrite religious beliefs, but this is a little too soon, too fast. They really need to quit punishing the only all natural drug on the planet. Pence claims he believes in an invisible man in the sky that created the world. If that is true (meaning if he really believes what he says he believes), how could he have a problem with the aforementioned natural drug created by God. If there is a God, He/She is most certainly laughing about our stance on that amazing, natural healer. If we could patent it, it would be legal tomorrow.
            • Shock & Gall
              Not only shocking that we are moving in reverse here, but it seems that no one in the Legislature or Gov's office has any touch with the real world in the 21st Century! Lowering the amount of pot for a felony, and 6 tiers of leveling sentences is along the same lines of Nixon creating the 1968 laws that put pot in with heroine and cocaine. Pence is staring to look like a one termer!...and the Legislature has begun its self embarassment phase again for the year.
            • What is Pence Smoking?
              This is completely a reverse of how every other state and even the Federal government is focusing time, money and efforts for criminal penalties. Statistics for the past 2 decades of the war on drugs has shown us that we create professional criminals by incarcertating and felonizing minor drug offenses. This precludes individuals from ever obtaining gainful employment, therefore, forcing them on the dole or crime or both. Where on earth is Pence getting his bad advice for this lunacy??
            • And property
              Property through emininent domain?
            • Failed Connection
              Gee Mr. Obvious, I never made the connection.......quit waseting time and money on these minor issues. Drug wars exist because we force people into desperation for a lifestyle. if you would spend more time focusing on actual issues, we could improve society, but I guess that might remove fear from people that vote you into office......
            • Question
              What class of felony will it be to buy or sell laws in the Indiana Legislature?
              • lowest level felony
                1/3 of an OUNCE to ten pounds in the same category? Surely he means 1/3 of a pound.
              • Repub Autopsy??
                So much for individual liberty and small govt.The party of leave me alone to be irresponsible with my gun, again sets it's site on arming all citizens to get dangerous criminals armed with ten joints off the street. Leave harmless people alone, arrest and incarcerate those who commit violent (and also white collar) crimes for appropriate sentences, and quit subsidizing your buddies in the private prison industry.

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