Indiana mulls increasing marijuana penalties


While the rest of the country is seemingly progressing forward with marijuana laws, a handful lawmakers in Indiana are moving backwards it seems. A proposal before the legislature currently would revamp the state’s criminal code could increase penalties for low-level marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a felony.
If approved on Thursday, the bill would make possession of about one-third of an ounce up to 10 pounds a low-level felony instead of a high-level misdemeanor. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, has said he wants to be stricter on drug possession and show drug dealers that the state is not a place for them to operate.

The bill was originally geared at changing the state’s dated, four-class felony system to a streamlined six-class felony system. Supporters of the bill, like Rep. Greg Steuerwald, a Republican from Avon, say it will help the state put lower-level offenders into work release and treatment programs while higher-level offenders will spend more time in jail.
The bill would require that felons serve at least 75 percent of their sentence. Currently, offenders can be released on parole after serving up to 50 percent of their sentence.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

The position isn’t really surprising coming from the Indiana legislature. In February of this year a bill that would have decriminalized up to two ounces of marijuana, legalized industrial hemp and protected drivers against a per-se THC DUI was killed in committee after Sen. Mike Young, a Republican from Madison County, refused to discuss the bill. Young did say he was open to learning more about cannabis decriminalization over the summer and that he wouldn’t be surprised if another bill is introduced in 2014.
What is unfortunate is that the legislature clearly isn’t listening to the people they represent. According to a poll conducted last December, 53 percent of voters questioned by Ball State researchers said they would be in favor of decriminalizing marijuana while only 41 percent were opposed.
Currently, marijuana possession of up to 30 grams is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and $5,000 in fines. More than 30 grams is a felony with anywhere from six months to three years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Sale or cultivation of between 30 grams and ten pounds is also a felony, with up to three years in prison. Hash manufacture and possession is yet another felony, with a year in jail and $5,000 in fines. Interestingly, paraphernalia possession (on first offense) doesn’t carry any prison time, but the hefty $10,000 fine is nevertheless daunting. Shit, simply being in a place where “drug activity” is going on can get you six months in jail in Indiana.