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Senate panel backs tougher marijuana penalties

Associated Press
March 28, 2013
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The penalties for marijuana possession and dealing will be tougher than first proposed in a major overhaul of Indiana's criminal sentencing laws under changes approved Thursday by a state Senate committee.

The move to increase the felony and misdemeanor levels of the marijuana crimes, with longer possible prison sentences for those convicted, came after Republican Gov. Mike Pence questioned last week whether the plan was strict enough on low-level drug offenders.

Members of the Senate's Corrections and Criminal Law Committee also voted to advance the overall bill, which 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.

Changes made by the committee include moving possession of between about one-third of an ounce and 10 pounds of marijuana from the highest-level misdemeanor to the lowest-level felony, with a prison sentence between six months and 2.5 years. The bill originally required possession of more than 50 pounds of marijuana before becoming a felony punishable by one year to six years in prison, but the committee lowered that level to 10 pounds.

David Powell, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said he was troubled by the bill allowing someone with up to 10 pounds of marijuana to face a misdemeanor charge.

"That's about a $50,000 street value," Powell said. "You know that's not for personal use."

The bill's provisions for various levels of crimes, from those such as attempted murder and rape to drug dealing and petty theft, were developed by a criminal code review commission over the past four years.

Andrew Cullen, legislative liaison for the Indiana Public Defender Council, told the committee that the group disagreed with the bill being changed to go against the commission's work to set all crimes by degrees of seriousness.

Committee Chairman Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, drew laughs from other members and the audience when he referred to the governor by responding: "We have somebody on a different floor of this building that had a problem with it."

The committee voted 8-1 to approve the marijuana law changes, which put them closer to what is in current state law.

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, voted against the changes, saying he thought they were only prompted by tough-on-crime posturing from Pence.

"I just think it was an unnecessary change and an artificial change just to appease the governor," Stoops said.

The committee voted down a proposal that would have scrapped the bill's provisions to require most felons to serve at least 75 percent of their sentences.

Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, proposed keeping the current system of allowing inmates to be released after serving 50 percent of their sentence if they earn good-time while behind bars. Glick, a former LaGrange County prosecutor, said she believed the 75 percent standard would weaken the incentive that inmates have to not cause trouble while in prison.

Bill sponsor Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, disagreed and said that retaining the 50 percent credit time would undermine work on gaining support from law-enforcement groups and cost support among legislators. Steuerwald said the change would give the public more certainty about the sentences that criminal will serve.

The bill, which the House approved last month, now advances to the Senate Appropriations Committee for review of its financial impact. Its provisions aren't to take effect until July 2014, and Powell and the prosecutors council had concerns about some crime levels that it would take to the code review commission this summer.

"Certainly there are things in it that we'd like to change, and I'm sure there are things that the public defenders want to change," Powell said. "It's a long way from being done."

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  • copy and paste
    sent me the same thing when I only even slightly mentioned "legalization". touching more on how our laws are not stopping people from dealing marijuana sooo this is not helping the problem
  • Backwards into the future
    The most bizarre aspect of all of this is that the same conservative politicians who want to lock up people for smoking a benign herb in the privacy of their own homes will stand atop any available soapbox and expound on our Constitutional rights. Hypocrites!
  • Mike Pence Email
    This is the return email I received when inquiring if Mike Pence understood the medical benefits of marijuana, the lack of risk, and voters opinion. Gee - I don't think they read or understood my questions :) Furthermore you should never address someone you do not know as friend. Making an assumption, well you know... Dear Friend, Thank you for contacting me to express your support for the legalization of marijuana. It was a pleasure to hear from you. I am committed to combating illegal drug use in our communities. Illegal drug use lowers the quality of life of the individual drug user, hurts the family, and damages the wider community. It is for these reasons that I do not anticipate supporting efforts to legalize the possession or use of marijuana. Again, thank you for contacting me. It is an honor to serve as Governor and have the benefit of your advice. If you would like more information on this or any other issue, please visit my website at www.in.gov/gov . Sincerely, Mike Pence
    • Not surprised
      Upset yes. Surprised no. We all will just keep smoking on our own, and enjoying the marvelous cannabis that the people of our great stat grow, and keep it semi hidden like we always have. It's no cheaper or any easier to get in the states that it is legal. I'm not going to sweat it. Gives me something to look foreword to when I vacation in states that it is legal. Like Maui Hawaii, or California. We live in the only stat in the US that still has no Sunday sales on alcohol. Does anyone really think that a state that backward is going to legalize or decriminalize pot? I think not. I love being a Hoosier, and love my little town. Was born in Indiana and will be buried in Indiana but that does not mean I have to agree with all the laws in our state. My Dr has even told me that if it was made legal for medical, she would give me the referral, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. Welcome to Indiana.
    • Disbelief
      It is a tragedy that our state is being held back by close-minded officials. I love Indiana and I am damn proud to be a Hoosier. I see a state with a strong agricultural background that could easily turn this "cannabis revolution" into billions of dollars in revenue. I always thought that politicians were interested in money but apparently restricting the people's freedom to enjoy a plant less harmful than tobacco is more alluring.
    • Insane
      It is amazing the rest of the country is going the other way on marijuana. Let us look at really is at stake here. For one the contract with the private prison system to keep it 90% filled comes to mind. look for challenges to these new laws. And this is what happens to the state when there is no balance of power or any check on any one party. I and many will be leaving soon.
    • A Step Back
      Getting a little big for your britches Indiana Elected State Officials. Have you checked what the people who live here want and is proven to be safer than prescription pain medications? There are so many benefits to cannibus I cannot list them here. You are not doing the job you were elected to do. Make tougher laws for dangerous crimals if you think it deters them. You need to legalize small amounts of marijuana. STUDY THE FACTS!
    • 52% America wants to Legalize Marijuana in U.S. and 8 Senators in Indiana want to step 10 paces backwards
      Indiana will be known in the history books for being one the dumbest states on record if this passes. Honestly with 52% of America now in support of 100% LEGAL across ALL states, why even think about going backwards. It all comes does to feeding the Private Prison and giving them FREE SLAVERY through non-violent criminals, that is the real picture. The same company that funded Mike Pence campaign GEO, the same company that would love to see everyone working for FREE through their prison system for profit. This screams the amount of corruption that shadows this state and give me nothing but reason to move from here to any of the other states is better choice. The WAR on DRUGS is a failure, they can't even keep it out of their prisons and they want to control the streets?
    • Pathetic Slavery Increase Needed says Puppet Senate Panel
      Does anyone still believe the Two Party farce still cares about Truth and Liberty? How much more corporate and illegal can leaders be? I smell a tyrannical Legislative system and a puppet Judicial system, working hand in hand to enslave the populace with ridiculous laws meant only to pad the corporate prison complex. This is treason, and the free people see it. Cannabis and Hemp will free the masses from medicinal, corporate /fascist economic, spiritual and evolutionary slavery. Ever wonder who they are REALLY working for?
    • Pence and pot
      31-0 - are you listening?
    • True
      I agree with you. Pence is terrible and needs to go. We need to start voting Libertarian. If things don't change soon I'm leaving Indiana.
    • Pot Felon
      I'm lucky these guys didn't catch me 45 years ago while in college, as I could never have become a teacher and good citizen with a felony on my record. WHEW!
    • Ex-conservative here
      Yes, I have voters remorse. Pence is the bale of hay on this camel's back. I have been defending the Republican party for all too long. It is getting tougher to even say the word Republican. I found it ironic how the Tea Party lost us a seat in the white house. Now this guy is going to loose us a lot more. Looks like the only thing to do is join the Democrats, and cheat on our taxes to keep it fair. I hereby cancel my affiliation with the Republican party. The state is about to get PENCED. Our last governor was amazing, and Indiana started looking like a great place for business. This guy is going to kill the state and make us all look like backwards fools.
      • Priority Adjustment Please!
        Conservative here that did vote for Pence, but regretting my decision. I don't use marijuana, tried it in college, and frankly I don't find it any more threatening than alcohol. What are you people doing debating this "issue" when Indiana unemployment is quickly creeping up to 9%!!!? Completely out of touch!
      • IDIOTS
        It is truly unbelievable that we could have such utter fools representing us. It is embarrassing to live in a state governed by wing-nuts who are so misinformed as to believe that ANY good could come from harsher pot penalties. Use our limited resources keep to us safe from violent felons, and STAY OUT of our personal business! Oh yeah...and pay attention to your constituents- NOT ONE COMMENT IN FAVOR
      • What are they doing? Smoking Crack?
        This state has a criminal justice system that makes very little sense. To be sure, the violent offenders, who seem often to have suspended sentences and time cuts, should be serving more of their actual sentences. But, on the other hand, there needs to be a way for offenders who have a clean record in the system to obtain a sentence modification without having to gain the blessing of an elected prosecutor just to present his or her case to a court -- at least if we really want to keep the worst of the worst behind bars and control costs of the prison industrial complex. Then, to increase possession of a 1/e ounce to a felony??? Equal to 10 pounds??? There is nothing more than posturing going on among ambitious egos when such tripe comes out of the sausage maker.
      • Contact your legislators
        I hope the commenters here are contacting your state house and senate legislators and voicing your displeasure at this ridiculous bill. Tell your friends to do so as well.
      • Ag State?
        The saddest thing about all of this is that as an agriculture state, we could be poised to own the marijuana growing crop production. We could be way ahead of the game when the day comes (and it is coming) when pot is legal, taxed, and regulated. So short sighted that these nuts in office don't see the possibilities for revenue, jobs, and growth. At a time when gambling revenue is all that is talked about, here is an alternative, and frankly best, option to actually have a new growth economy right here in Indiana. I would have thoughr Daniels could spearhead this in his new role as President of an Ag school. Too bad they are so out of touch with reality! One and Done Pencey!
      • seriously?
        I can't help but laugh at all these comments from people who voted for Pence and now regret it. You honestly didn't see this coming?
      • 1/3 of an Ounce is FELONY??
        So a guy with 1/3 of an ounce of marijuana faces a felony on their record and 6 months to 2.5 years in prison? My god, what are these people thinking? Pence and his party are a freakin' joke. What a waste of tax dollars and police resources. Get with the times and stop making our state a laughing stock to the rest of the country.
      • put it on the ballot
        let's just get it on a ballot a vote like Colorado did!! Let the people decide!! I'm proud to say that I didn't vote for pence
      • Stiffer Sentences? Really?
        I knew Mr. Pence was going to be a tough advocate of prohibition. He is so out of touch that he cares nothing about public opinion on the issue of marijuana. I didn't vote for him, and shame on all of you who did just because you recognized his name. Backward home again in Indiana.
      • What have they been smoking?
        I am amazed that at a time when states are legalizing marijuana or medical marijuana that an Indiana Senate committee would vote to increase penalties. No one has been able to persuade me yet that marijuana is worse then alcohol. Prohibition already failed.
      • Pence's Party of Irrelevance
        Obama didn't win. Based mostly on their "social and family values," the R party lost. Next, they are going to lose local elections - no support from IBJ intelligent readers who voted for them.
      • wow
        ask anyone and they either support our law or they think we need to lighten up on marijuana laws. i can't imagine anyone in gov would think to stiffen penalties. hard to get anyone to vote gop on things that matter with the economy when they are so backwards on issues such as this. no wonder gop gets labeled as antique old guys who are out of touch with real world. this makes absolutely zero sense.
      • Backwards Thinking
        If anyone still questions why the rest of the nation thinks Indiana is "backwards" in their thinking, this move by the Senate should provide enough explanation. Whether it's the war on drugs, equal rights for gay people, or generally anything that is seen as progressive in the rest of America, you can bet the Indiana State Legislature is leading the way in the wrong direction.
      • 8-1?
        Who is on the Senate criminal law committee? A bunch of bone heads! How about 15-0 comments against harsher penalties.
      • Get off the Pot!
        I can't believe I voted for these stodgy, old white guys and tea party types. Four long years to go (for pot, too??!!)! If they can't think outside of their personal beliefs, they shouldn't be in office.
      • GET OFF THE POT, Pence & Co.
        The people who voted for you are not behind you. You don't get it. This is terrible and so sad. Don't you have bigger fish to fry? No, you want to fry the small-time guy and create career criminals. Low level are key words.
      • insanity at statehouse
        Being it's Easter maybe "forgive them lord, they know not what they do" is in order? These folks have lost it!, and ironically I would bet serious money that many of their kids, relatives, neighbors, lawyers, doctors, and good aquaintences smoke pot, but just haven't admitted it to them yet. I would also bet that many of our brave legislators and elected folks have gay kids who have not told them yet. Oblivious to it all!...and I though the Nixon parinoia era was over.
      • Seriously Indiana?
        You would think our legislators might get a clue from those advanced states that are making marijuana legal. Instead they double down on a failed policy.
      • Agree with Commenters
        I agree with what others have already said, what a waste of time and resources when it is likely that Mary Jane will be legal within five years nationally. Way to be on the cutting edge of a butter knife Indiana!
      • business as usual
        so they want to increase the cost to the tax payers by increasing penalties and stiffer sentences, what a joke our state government is
      • Enough
        I've had enough of Pence already. And yes, I wrongfully voted for him. I didn't want to. I would NEVER vote for this hypocrite again. The republicans will continue to loose seats and voters if this is what a republican looks like. The only way to truly separate church and state is to get rid of Pence. Let's make this a one term governor. Maybe that nice Fishers business man could run again in the next primary? I can't believe Indiana is going so backwards from the rest of the country.
      • OMG
        I can only read this and shake my head. Let's put more pot smokers in jail and release the real criminals because there is no room for them. Un-freakin-believable. Welcome to Indiana....remember to turn your calendars back thirty years.
      • WTF?
        So how did we get from studying whether to decriminalize it to imposing harsher penalties? This legislature confuses me. Am I alone?
      • Jim Merritt did this
        This just shows us why Jim Merritt and the rest of the old guard are out of touch. 54% of hoosiers want this,,Merritt says NO..why because he says pot leads to Heroin..Really? IM very sad that our state is so behind..we can expect more from Premier Pence
      • They are too busy...
        collecting money from the for-profit prison lobby...plus Gov Pence wants to be seen as being tough on drugs when he runs for President in 4 years...what a joke
      • Seriously?
        Because you don't have enough non-violent drug offenders in Indiana prisons. The War of Drugs is joke and too many police officers have died enforcing laws that do NOTHING but ruin lives and waste money on enforcing morality. So much for the party of individual liberty, Republicans are fascists. If people want to smoke pot, shoot heroin and snort cocaine, who does it really harm other than the individual? I can understand if it impacts children (then the state should intervene). But is it really worth putting people in prison longer than rapists or murders (which with the current mandatory drug sentencing laws they do)?
      • What the...
        Forget time zones, our legislature seems to be in a different year zone...And people wonder why Indiana gets a bad rap...
      • Tougher Marijuana Laws--Really?
        Once again the Indiana legislators are out of touch with the direction of the country. Why do we want to continue incarcerating people who are essentially no more of a threat to the rest of us than beer drinkers? Would someone please ask these legislators for evidence that shows the need for more stringent penalties? I suspect they are appeasing Indiana's entrenched governor.

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