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Decriminalizing 'pot' is not a good ideaPosted Monday, December 3, 2012, at 2:10 PM
There are rumblings prior to the start of the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly that some lawmakers will be making an effort to decriminalize marijuana.
My first response is, "What have they been smoking?"
Marijuana is a gateway drug, controlled by powerful, violent cartels from Mexico, Columbia and other foreign lands, that leads to other crimes and other illegal drugs.
Why on God's green earth would you want to make possession of even small amounts of marijuana essentially legal ... in the criminal code class as an infraction, like a simple traffic ticket?
Currently, in Indiana possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana is a class A misdemeanor on the first offense and carries a sentence of up to one year in jail. Possession of more than 30 grams - about an ounce - is a class D felony that carries a sentence of six months to three years in prison.
Two lawmakers want to downgrade the marijuana possession law.
Democratic State Sen. Karen Tallian has proposed decriminalizing marijuana and Republican Sen. Brent Steele, from nearby Bedford, has said he would consider a similar measure during the upcoming legislative session that starts Jan. 6.
Steele told the Associated Press that his legislation would make possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana an infraction rather than a criminal misdemeanor. Ten grams is equivalent to about one-third of an ounce, roughly enough to make 20 to 30 marijuana cigarettes.
Steele, who chairs the Senate committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters, noted that many other states and college campuses already ticket offenders for possessing small amounts of pot instead of arresting them.
AP also reported that Sen. Tallian, of Portage, pushed for a summer study group in 2011 and this year introduced a bill that would have decriminalized possession of a larger amount, three ounces.
Tallian's bill received a hearing in the Senate, but was not brought to a vote.
She issued a recent statement saying it's about time Indiana decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana because Indiana courtrooms are wasting time and resources prosecuting these cases.
Sen. Steele said he'll include the marijuana provision in a bill that revamps the Indiana criminal code.
The Criminal Code Evaluation Commission is looking to align charges and sentencing in proportion to the offenses.
Again, what are these lawmakers thinking?
District 62 Indiana State Rep. Matt Ubelhor, a Republican from Bloomfield, made it clear to me that decriminalizing pot is not something he would support.
"I'm not willing to do anything that would put kids in jeopardy in any way, shape or form. Moms and Dads need to know that their kids are not going to go out there and be pushed a drug of any kind, Ubelhor said. "There are some criminal codes being re-written in the state and for us to just go off on a tangent on that (issue) would be silly. I can tell you right now that I will be very, very cautious when looking at that. I will vote and bear on the side of the families knowing that their children are not going to be confronted with this."
A spokesperson for Governor-elect Mike Pence also told the Associated Press that the governor would not support decriminalization efforts.
How many of you were also shocked last week when Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell told members of the State Budget Committee that he believes "it (marijuana) is here, it's going to stay"?
The 40-year law enforcement veteran cited recent voter-passed measures in Colorado and Washington that allow adults to have small amounts of marijuana as evidence of a national shift on the issue.
"If it were up to me I do believe I would legalize it and tax it, particularly in sight of the fact that several other states have now come to that part of their legal system as well," the Associated Press reported him as saying.
However, ISP spokesman Capt. Dave Bursten quickly backtracked from Whitesell's statement the same day, saying the superintendent "rendered a philosophical opinion," not an official one.
Linton Police Chief Troy Jerrell also says for him -- from a law enforcement view -- decriminalizing marijuana is not a good idea.
"I don't think it's a good thing. I know there are a lot of people out there that are for it, but on the other hand, everything that I've been told is marijuana is kind of a gateway drug," Jerrell said. "Most people who do hard-core drugs say they started out on marijuana. People will argue against that, but as far as I'm concerned it's fine the way it is."
I agree with Chief Jerrell and State Rep. Ubelhor that changing the way we look at and prosecute a drug like marijuana is not a good idea. If you disagree, move to Washington or Colorado where pot possession warrants a simple slap on the wrist.
Nick is assistant editor for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at 847-4487 or 1-800-947-4487 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Nick on Twitter @GCDWSchneider .
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