A Republican state lawmaker plans to push for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, as a part of a comprehensive criminal sentencing overhaul.
Under Indiana law, marijuana possession, under 30 grams, is a Class A misdemeanor that can carry up to a year of jail time. Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) wants to make possession of less than 10 grams a civil infraction, subject to a fine. Steele says his proposal is about using law enforcement resources wisely.
“I don’t think mere possession is worth all the thousands of dollars that we will invest in the prosecution, usually a public defender and then, if there is a conviction, all the probation that goes on,” he says.
Steele says his legislation will not affect any public intoxication or driving while intoxicated provisions of Indiana law. He hopes his proposal can be a part of a massive overhaul of Indiana’s criminal code that lawmakers have been working on a for years. The process is finally gaining some momentum. Legislation expected next session with Steele as the Senate version’s sponsor.
Bloomington Democratic Representative Matt Pierce is a member of the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, which is responsible for the sentencing reform package. He says he would prefer Steele’s proposal be a part of the package rather than a stand-alone bill.
“We’ve kind of gotten the code really messed up because we’ve done a lot of things a little at a time over the last 30 years, so if we can’t get focused in on kind of the bigger picture, then we’re going to have a problem,” he says.
Senator Randy Head (R-Logansport), who is also a member of the commission, says Steele does not have his support.
“You know, we’ve criminalized smoking cigarettes with tobacco in them and know the initiative would be to decriminalize smoking marijuana and to me, those two things seem inconsistent,” Head says.
Head says he is not sure he could vote for the reform package if it includes Steele’s language.
“At this point I don’t know,” he says. “I’d be more inclined to try to fight the proposal and keep it from going in just so I don’t have to ask myself that question later.”
Head says he believe the penalties for marijuana possession are appropriate and does not see a problem that needs correcting.