Marion County halts prosecutions for simple marijuana possession

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Simple possession of marijuana will no longer be prosecuted in Indianapolis courts, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office has announced.

Acting Prosecutor Ryan Mears said Monday the MCPO will no longer file charges against defendants accused of possessing 30 grams or less, or roughly 1 ounce, of marijuana. The policy shift is meant to free up resources to focus on violent crime in Indianapolis, Mears said.

“Too often, an arrest for marijuana possession puts individuals into the system who otherwise would not be. That is not a win for our community,” Mears said. “The enforcement of marijuana policy has disproportionately impacted people of color, and this is a first step to addressing that.”

Mears, who was named acting prosecutor last week after Terry Curry stepped down to focus on ongoing treatment for prostate cancer, said the decision not to prosecute marijuana possession came after about two years of discussion. There is no nexus between possession and violent crime, he said, so the Class B misdemeanor offense is not a threat to public safety.

The prosecutor’s office has slowly been working toward the policy shift, Mears said. In 2018, 74% of marijuana possession cases were dismissed in Marion County, and that number rose to 81% in 2019.

The 30-gram threshold came from a “fine line” in Indiana law between possession and dealing, Mears said. More serious marijuana offenses involving more than one ounce will still be prosecuted.

The hope is that declining to prosecute simple possession charges will help build and restore trust between Marion County residents and law enforcement, the acting prosecutor said. If residents believe they can trust police officers and sheriff’s deputies, then law enforcement may have more sources willing to help solve the city’s rash of violent crime.

The policy shift is about “doing the right thing,” Mears said.

“This will not cause Armageddon,” he said, noting that similar policies have recently been enacted in Louisville and Cincinnati. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office is the first in Indiana to take this step, he said.

This story will be updated.

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