Photo by Bryan Wells
To one Indiana lawmaker, the decision by the acting Marion County prosecutor to not file criminal charges for possessing small amount of marijuana is a good one.
“Let’s stop branding our citizens with a criminal record for doing what is increasingly viewed as normal behavior,” said state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, in a statement after acting Prosecutor Ryan Mears said he would no longer prosecute people for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana.
Tallian, who has authored numerous bills in the General Assembly to change Indiana’s marijuana laws, said Hoosiers shouldn’t be punished for doing what people in some of Indiana’s neighboring states have the freedom to do.
Mears assumed the position on an acting basis after Prosecutor Terry Curry stepped aside for health reasons.
“I have come to this decision as a veteran prosecutor,” Mears said in release on Monday. “I have seen the resources devoted to these prosecutions and believe those resources can be used more effectively to promote public safety, ensure justice for victims, and reduce recidivism.”
Mears added that when faced with prosecuting a person for possessing a small amount of marijuana or acts of violence, his priorities are clear.
Mears’s opponent in the election to fill the prosecutor’s post, Tim Moriarty, said he agrees with the decision, but believes that this should not be it.
“I believe it is critical be treat this step forward as the continuation of a journey, not the end,” Moriarty said in a statement.
But Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said marijuana charges will still be prosecuted in his community.
“It’s not our (other prosecutors) responsibility to make the laws in the state of Indiana. The legislature does that,” he said, adding that the big problems in his county are drug overdoses from harder substances like heroin, methamphetamines and cocaine.
Attorney General Curtis Hill, in a statement on Monday, said that he is “concerned that this proclamation in Marion County will attract to Indianapolis people with a particular interest in communities where drug enforcement is lax.”
He added, “It seems to me a curious strategy to put out a welcome mat for lawbreakers in a community already facing challenges related to crime, homelessness and other social problems stemming from drug abuse.”
In neighboring Michigan, marijuana is legal for recreational use while it will become legal in Illinois on Jan. 1. In Ohio, possession of a small amount of marijuana has been decriminalized.
Tallian said she will try again to change Indiana’s marijuana laws by introducing legislation in the 2020 session to decriminalize possession of marijuana.
“It is past time for our jail cells to be cleared of Hoosiers who have committed no other crime than be in possession of a harmless substance, that actually has real medical benefits,” she said. “Reforming our marijuana laws is an issue of criminal justice and racial equality.”
Brandon Barger is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.