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Senator's bill would ease penalty for pot possession

January 16, 2013

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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