State sentator plots marijuana law reforms
By Dan Carden email@example.com
, (317) 637-9078 | Posted: Saturday, January 28, 2012 7:00 pm
INDIANAPOLIS | State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, knows sometimes the best way to win support for a change in the law is to give people time to get used to the idea.
That's why Tallian did not request a committee vote on Senate Bill 347 last week but still spent nearly an hour explaining to a panel of state senators how Indiana would benefit by reducing criminal penalties for marijuana possession.
Indiana's marijuana laws are among the toughest in the nation. Possession of any marijuana is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
A second offense or possession of more than 30 grams, enough for about 30 to 40 marijuana cigarettes, is a felony, with a potential prison sentence of three years. A person caught holding 10 pounds or more faces up to eight years in prison.
"Marijuana possession is a victimless crime and there's no reason we need to do this to our citizens, especially our young people," Tallian said.
Tallian's proposal would not legalize marijuana possession; most felonies involving marijuana would become misdemeanors with mandatory suspended prison sentences.
For example, a person possessing less than 3 ounces, or about 85 grams, would serve no jail time under Tallian's plan if the person pleads guilty or does not have a prior marijuana conviction in the past five years.
To earn the three-year prison term doled out now for possessing one ounce of marijuana, a person would have to possess between two and 10 pounds. Dealing more than 10 pounds of marijuana would remain punishable by up to eight years in prison.
"Medical marijuana" would be technically illegal, but Hoosiers with a prescription or doctor's recommendation for marijuana would get a "free pass" from the courts, she said.
The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimates Tallian's changes would free up at least 250 beds a year in the state prison system and thousands more in county jails.
Tallian also told lawmakers Indiana could create new jobs in farming and industry by legalizing industrial hemp, which is marijuana that lacks the necessary ingredients to produce a psychotropic effect.
She said there's no reason today's farmers couldn't make money growing hemp, just as Newton County farmers did growing hemp during World War II to produce cloth and fiber for the military.
Tallian said she was encouraged members of the Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters carefully listened to her plan and seemed particularly interested in industrial hemp production.
But because 2012 is an election year, she said she thought it best to wait until next year to ask for a vote.
"This legislation is a work in progress," Tallian said. "We wanted to continue laying the groundwork."