State Sen. Karen Tallian wants to make most marijuana possession cases misdemeanors. What a change that would be from a toke-free Indiana.
Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, did not request a committee vote on Senate Bill 347 but took nearly an hour to explain how reducing criminal penalties for marijuana possession could benefit Indiana.
It would have the effect of freeing up at least 250 beds a year in the state prison system and thousands of beds in county jails, according to the nonprofit Legislative Services Agency.
In Indiana, possession of an amount of marijuana is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. That’s among the toughest penalties in the nation.
“Marijuana possession is a victimless crime, and there’s no reason to do this to our citizens, especially to our young people,” Tallian said.
But is it truly a victimless crime?
We have been told for years that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to more serious illegal drugs. That argument must not be ignored in the discussion of whether to ease penalties for marijuana possession.
And does medicinal use of marijuana actually fight disease and ease symptoms, or would it simply create a state full of hypochondriacs who see various maladies as a way to legally possess an otherwise illegal substance?
The Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee discussed this issue July 28, but four hours of conversation on this issue aren’t enough to reach a consensus on the ramifications of easing penalties.
This is a subject that should be discussed by a separate legislative study commission this summer to weigh both the financial costs of enforcement and the social cost on people who use marijuana as an entry drug, leading to more dangerous drugs.
Tallian said she “wanted to continue laying the groundwork” instead of asking for a vote in an election year. Part of that groundwork should be pressing for the study commission to come up with definitive answers on the costs and benefits of easing penalties for marijuana possession.