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Some gains on pot decriminalization

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SOURCE: NATIONAL AGRICULTURAL STATISTICS SERVICE / INDIANA FIELD OFFICE
  • Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service / Indiana Field Office

When it came to helping Indiana's agricultural sector this year at the Statehouse, lawmakers could have bolstered the farm economy and created a market-based remedy to farmland loss — by legalizing cannabis cultivation.

Or they could have at least supported Senate Resolution 31, "urging the Legislative Council to assign the Interim Committee on Agriculture the task of studying the legalization of growing industrial hemp."

But leadership allowed that effort by Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, to die without a hearing in the Senate's Public Policy Committee.

COURTESY OF EGG ROLL VIA FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Courtesy of Egg Roll via Flickr Creative Commons

A bill authored by Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, to decriminalize marijuana also languished unheard. This was the third session she attempted to move her bill — the piece of legislation about which she says she receives the most questions from the public.

In years past, the Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law held hearings on the matter, but under the new leadership of Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, the bill did not move to that stage.

"He just wasn't ready to hear it," Tallian told NUVO.

The cannabis lobby was cautiously optimistic at the beginning of this session.

"We were wanting to see at least some significant decriminalization of cannabis in Indiana," said Neal Smith, chairman of Indiana NORML, the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws. "We didn't get that. We got in House Bill 1006 — a reform of the entire criminal code in the state — very modest gains. We're still lagging behind pretty much every other state in marijuana reform."

Tallian explained that Indiana law would currently charge someone caught for a second offense of having under an ounce of marijuana with a felony. HB1006 will drop it to a misdemeanor.

The bill mandates several changes in felony sentencing, which should result in fewer people going to prison overall, but offenders who are incarcerated must serve at least 75 percent of their sentences as opposed to the 50 percent required under current law.

Among the points raised in opposition to her efforts, Tallian said she hears reference to the "gateway drug" theory, "messages we want to send to our children" and the desire from prosecutors to be "tough on crime."

Sen. Thomas Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, sat down with NUVO in December to recount the years it took him to pass legislation to lower the state's standard for intoxicated driving to 0.08 — and the profound experience of talking — and crying — with the families of people who died due to the careless acts of intoxicated drivers. His guest column "Pot's Intoxicating Qualities Outweigh Benefit," is posted at NUVO.net

For every protest she hears, Tallian said she has five responses.

She tells the story of a young woman from her district, who was busted a party with a little marijuana as an 18-year-old. She pleaded guilty and took substance-abuse classes. Four years later, after graduating with a teacher's certificate, a local school corporation refused to let her teach because of her criminal record.

"What kind of message is that sending to our children?"

Tallian said she will continue her efforts and believes it will gain support "once you get it on track — I just haven't been able to get it out of the station."

Ultimately, she said, "there is huge public sentiment to do this."

The Howey/Depauw poll of 800 likely voters last fall found that 54 percent of respondents favored decriminalization, compared to 27 percent who "strongly opposed" the measure, 10 percent who "oppose" and 10 percent who said they didn't know.

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