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The Pot Legislator

Why Indiana Senator Karen Tallian fights for marijuana

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The Pot Legislator

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, is never afraid to speak her mind on the Senate floor. photo submitted

Indiana Senator Karen Tallian, D-Portage, is known for many things.

As an attorney she has done everything from defending the accused to teaching at the Valparaiso School of Law. She maintains her practice in Portage, has experience in state and federal courts and is licensed to practice law in Indiana and Illinois.

As a legislator she has taken on labor issues, healthcare, property tax reform and environmental protection.

However, she is probably most noted for her continued campaign to decriminalize marijuana in Indiana.

I had the chance to talk with Tallian about why she stands behind this issue with no intention of backing down.

NUVO: How many times have you tried to get some sort of marijuana legislation passed and why?

SEN. KAREN TALLIAN: Well, I’ve proposed various forms [of legislation] over the last five years. It started recently. I am an attorney and I was sitting in a criminal court waiting to be called and I saw one after another after another… young kids pleading guilty to either a misdemeanor or D felony for possession of marijuana and getting sentenced to community corrections, payment of fines, going through alcohol and substance abuse programs and I thought this is really… this is really stupid. So the first year I filed a bill that just said, “Let’s talk about marijuana policy in the state of Indiana. Let’s hold some hearings” and lo and behold! Nobody was more surprised than me when that actually passed the Senate, because I said, “You know, it’s just a hearing, it’s just a study.” So even the most stalwart people let me do that. We had a couple of hearings over a summer. The next couple of years I tried, I filed a bill for the decriminalization of small amounts so [the] possession of small amounts would only be an infraction. But I could never get a hearing. I think I did that for three years and everybody kept saying, “Oh, next year, next year.” Then this year, a few people said, “Hey, why don’t you just try medical?” So this year I filed a bill just for medical. Again, I got HUGE public support. I think that when we put the announcement up on my Senate website, we got 90,000 hits in the first week. And so that’s where I am. I didn’t get a hearing on that either.

(Editor’s note: The announcement was shared more than 1,900 times from the NUVO website.)

NUVO: As an attorney, do you see the legal community getting more and more relaxed about marijuana? I mean, there are bigger fish to fry, like murderers, rapists, child abductors, etc. compared to pot violations.

TALLIAN: I sure hope so. In the legal community, I think most people (most people that I know and that’s a lot of people from all over the state) think that we are well past time. Now I will tell you that quietly over the last couple of years we have managed to lower some penalties so we did get the second offense taken out of felony and into misdemeanor. That had been an automatic bump up if you had a second offense. So we got rid of that. We’ve reduced some penalties. We’ve gotten rid of some paraphernalia issuse. So, quietly I’ve gotten a few things done because people agree with this. But going for the big one of either decriminalization or medical or legal, we just haven’t gotten there yet.

NUVO: How does the recently passed bill allowing access to experimental drugs, medical devices and treatments (HEA 1065) affect drugs and medicines with a cannabis base? Will Hoosiers have access to those products under the statute?

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TALLIAN: It doesn’t affect those products because I believe that bill only deals with drugs that under FDA consideration. However, I have to tell you, that when that bill came up on the Senate floor, I did make a point of personal privilege and say, “Look, marijuana would fit here. Marijuana would absolutely fit here and anybody who’s terminally ill should get whatever the heck they want!” So, yes, I made that same pitch.

NUVO: And obviously it fell on deaf ears…

TALLIAN: I didn’t offer an amendment, in fact I said… I could have, I thought about it, but I didn’t want to jeopardize this other bill, but [speaking to the Senate I said], “I just want to let you know, or point out to you, this is what you’re doing here. It’s nothing more than what I asked for.”

NUVO: So as research continues into cannabis and marijuana, it could in theory in the future fall under that bill.

TALLIAN: It could. It was not unnoticed.

NUVO: What are your future plans on the subject – will you continue to submit bills? Others may not be as patient as you are.

TALLIAN: It’s not patience. It’s persistence. And that’s just what you have to do around here. Representative Charlie Brown [D-Gary] I think filed his smoking ban bill for eight years before he got it through. Now I’m going to keep doing this in one form or another. And I don’t know yet, I’ll have to talk to people and see if there’s anything that will get me a better chance of getting a hearing. Frankly, I will tell you that as long as our current governor is in office, I don’t think this is ever going to happen. I think that there was probably a discussion, I’m just guessing, but I could hear a discussion that says, “Don’t send this to my desk.” No, I don’t think Governor Pence would support anything like this. In fact, he told me that once.

NUVO: How do you keep the public conversation going to keep people talking?

TALLIAN: That’s not very hard. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite. It doesn’t matter where I go in the state, somebody comes up to me and says, “I support that.” I do a lot of work around here on a lot of different things, but it seems the one thing that people know me for is this topic and they’re always wanting to talk about it and they’re always urging me on. I rarely have anybody say to me, “Oh, you shouldn’t do that.”

NUVO: Is that what keeps you going?

TALLIAN: Sure. It’s just one of those things we need to do. And nobody else will say it. Although, this year, [Rep.] Sue Errington, [D-Muncie], filed a bill in the House, and there may have been a couple of other things in the House.

NUVO: That sounds like progress. It seems like you were the only one beating the drum for a while.

TALLIAN: Well, yeah. That’s right. And then, people start saying, “Oh, she didn’t get killed for doing this.” I mean I had a lot of that when I first brought up this topic. I had people say, “Oh my gosh, don’t do this. We want you back next year.” People were afraid that I was going to get drummed out of town for doing this. It’s been exactly the opposite.

NUVO: That always seems to be the big fear that keeps legislators from doing anything – that fear of not getting re-elected.

TALLIAN: I think that’s right. And I’ll do it again next year – some version of this will come again next year. Just tell all of your readers who are supporters to don’t give up yet. We just have to be persistent.


Tallian’s marijuana legislation through the years

2015: SB 284 – Medical marijuana. Establishes a medical marijuana program and permits caregivers and patients who have received a physician recommendation to possess a certain quantity of marijuana for treatment. Creates the department of marijuana enforcement (DOME) to oversee the program, and creates the DOME advisory committee to review the effectiveness of the program and to consider recommendations from DOME. Authorizes DOME to grant research licenses to research facilities with a physical presence in Indiana. Repeals the controlled substance excise tax and the marijuana eradication program.

(Assigned to Health and Provider Services Committee. Never received a hearing.)

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2014: SB 314 – Legalization of small amounts of Marijuana. Authorizes the licensed cultivation and production of industrial hemp in accordance with rules adopted by the department of agriculture. Makes possession of less than two ounces of marijuana a Class C infraction. Makes possession of more than two ounces of marijuana a Class B misdemeanor, and makes the offense a Class A misdemeanor if the person has two or more prior convictions involving marijuana in the past five years. Requires a court to suspend a sentence imposed for possession of marijuana if the person does not have a previous conviction involving marijuana in the past five years, and requires a court to defer a sentence if the person pleads guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Makes the sale or delivery of more than two ounces of marijuana a Class A misdemeanor, and makes the offense a Level 6 or Level 5 felony under certain circumstances. Provides a defense if a person who delivers less than 10 pounds of marijuana does so for no consideration. Makes the public use or display of marijuana a Class B misdemeanor, and makes the offense a Class A misdemeanor if the person has two or more prior convictions for an offense involving marijuana in the past five years. Reduces the penalty for maintaining a common nuisance to a Class A misdemeanor if the only unlawful controlled substances involved were marijuana, hashish, or hash oil. Allows certain persons convicted of dealing in marijuana as a misdemeanor to participate in a forensic diversion program.

(Assigned to Corrections and Criminal Law Committee. Never received a hearing.)

2013: SB 580 - Marijuana. Provides that operating a vehicle with an inactive metabolite of marijuana, hashish, or hash oil in one's body does not violate the impaired driving laws. Authorizes the licensed cultivation and production of industrial hemp in accordance with rules adopted by the department of agriculture. Makes possession of less than two ounces of marijuana a Class C infraction. Makes possession of more than two ounces of marijuana a Class B misdemeanor, and makes the offense a Class A misdemeanor if the person has two or more prior convictions involving marijuana in the past five years. Requires a court to suspend a sentence imposed for possession of marijuana if the person does not have a previous conviction involving marijuana in the past five years, and requires a court to defer a sentence if the person pleads guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Makes the sale or delivery of more than two ounces of marijuana a Class A misdemeanor, and makes the offense a Class D or Class C felony under certain circumstances. Provides a defense if a person who delivers under ten pounds of marijuana does so for no consideration. Makes the public use or display of marijuana a Class B misdemeanor, and makes the offense a Class A misdemeanor if the person has two or more prior convictions for an offense involving marijuana in the past five years. Reduces the penalty for maintaining a common nuisance to a Class A misdemeanor if the only unlawful controlled substances involved were marijuana, hashish, or hash oil. Allows certain persons convicted of dealing in marijuana as a misdemeanor to participate in a forensic diversion program. Repeals the controlled substance excise tax.

(Assigned to Corrections and Criminal Law Committee. Never received a hearing.)

2012: SB 347 - Marijuana offenses. Provides that operating a vehicle with an inactive metabolite of marijuana, hashish, or hash oil in one's body does not violate the impaired driving laws. Makes possession of less than three ounces of marijuana a Class C infraction. Makes possession of more than three ounces of marijuana a Class B misdemeanor, and makes the offense a Class A misdemeanor if the person has two or more prior convictions involving marijuana in the past five years. Requires a court to suspend a sentence imposed for possession of marijuana if the person does not have a previous conviction involving marijuana in the past five years, and requires a court to defer a sentence if the person pleads guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Makes the sale or delivery of more than three ounces of marijuana a Class A misdemeanor, and makes the offense a Class D or Class C felony under certain circumstances. Provides a defense if a person who delivers under ten pounds of marijuana does so for no consideration. Makes the public use or display of marijuana a Class B misdemeanor, and makes the offense a Class A misdemeanor if the person has two or more prior convictions for an offense involving marijuana in the past five years. Reduces the penalty for maintaining a common nuisance to a Class A misdemeanor if the only unlawful controlled substances involved were marijuana, hashish, or hash oil. Repeals the controlled substance excise tax.

(Assigned to Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters Committee. Never received a hearing.)

2011: SB 192 - Study of marijuana. Requires the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee to study issues relating to marijuana.

(Passed out of the Senate. Sponsored in the House by Reps. Linda Lawson and Thomas Knollman; died in the House Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures)