An influential Republican lawmaker believes it’s time for Indiana to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and plans to include language to do so in legislation to overhaul the state’s criminal code.
State Sen. Brent Steele, who’s played a critical role in criminal justice issues as chairman of the Senate Corrections Committee, said the state’s marijuana possession laws are too harsh. Indiana law dictates that marijuana possession is a felony unless it’s a first-time offense and the amount is less than 1 ounce.
“We have to ask ourselves as a society, do we really want to be locking people up for having a couple of joints in their pocket,” Steele said. “Is that how we want to be spending our criminal justice resources?”
At least 14 states have rolled back criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and 17 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of “medical marijuana” as pain treatment.
Steele, a conservative legislator from Bedford who is running opposed in the November election, represents much of Jackson County. He likened Indiana’s marijuana possession laws to “smashing an ant with a sledgehammer.”
His proposal: To make possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil infraction that carries the penalty of a fine. Ten grams is equal to about 10 single-serving sugar packets or two joints.
Steele doesn’t support legalizing marijuana. He doesn’t want to do away with laws, for example, that carry tough penalties for people who drive under the influence of marijuana. And he’s convinced there are other laws that will catch people who are drug abusers.
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