Pubdate: Sun, 31 Jul 2011 Source: Evansville Courier & Press (IN) Copyright: 2011 The Evansville Courier Company Contact: http://www.courierpress.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/138 Author: Megan Banta FUTURE OF LEGALIZED MARIJUANA IN INDIANA UNCERTAIN AFTER HEARING INDIANAPOLIS -- Lawmakers didn't say whether they will proceed with legislation to legalize marijuana after advocates for such law dominated a four-hour Statehouse hearing last week. Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, who proposed a study of the issue this year, told the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Committee that she had no agenda other than to "start talking about this." She said the idea for the study came from her "experience sitting in court as an attorney" and "looking at young kids pleading to minor possession charges." "I said to myself, 'Why are we doing this? We need to fix this,'" Tallian said. Currently, Indiana law dictates that marijuana possession is a felony unless it is a first-time offense and the amount of marijuana is less than one ounce. Tallian and advocates of legalizing marijuana said the law could use some reform. But the senator did not make specific suggestions about how the law should be changed. Only one person testified briefly against possible reforms, arguing that marijuana, along with alcohol and cigarettes, serves as a gateway drug to more harmful drugs like cocaine and heroin. But Dan Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for Drug Policy Alliance, an organization based in New York, dismissed that argument. Abrahamson said studies show the decriminalization of marijuana does not increase its use among young people and that drug use in states where marijuana use is legal is less or comparable to other states. Abrahamson said no state has gone back on its decision to legalize marijuana. "Marijuana has not yet been recriminalized in any state," he said. Abrahamson said Indiana faces little to no risk of federal intervention if state legislators choose to decriminalize marijuana. "There is nothing in the United States Constitution that requires Indiana to criminalize anything under its state law," Abrahamson said. "If Indiana decides to lessen state penalties for marijuana-related offenses or to abolish certain marijuana offenses altogether, or to legalize marijuana, just for medical purposes, this committee may do so, today," Abrahamson said. Abrahamson also said the state could benefit from the decision to legalize marijuana, even more so if legislators then choose to set up a distribution system for medical marijuana to bring in tax revenue. He estimated that Indiana could raise as much as $44 million annually through sales tax alone if it taxes and regulated marijuana distributions. Noah Mamber, legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group based in Washington D.C., agreed. Mamber called marijuana prohibition a "colossal waste of public resources and human lives ruined by arrest and incarceration." "Marijuana prohibition simply does not work," he said. Mamber said legalizing marijuana would not only bring in tax revenue but also save law enforcement an estimated $148.8 million annually. "Ending prohibition would save millions and allow police to focus on investigating violent crimes instead," he said. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.