Pubdate: Mon, 03 Dec 2012
Source: Tribune Star (Terre Haute, IN)
Copyright: 2012 Tribune-Star Publishing Co. Inc.
Author: Maureen Hayden
Page: A1


The head of the Indiana State Police may have surprised legislators
last week when he told a state budget committee that he personally
favored legalizing marijuana.

But the push to rethink Indiana's pot laws isn't new.

A legislative commission set up three years ago to review Indiana's
criminal code is recommending that the Indiana General Assembly
overhaul the state's drug laws to reduce penalties for low-level
marijuana and other drug crimes.

The commission's recommendations don't include legalizing pot or even
decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug.

But they do call for reducing some felony-level marijuana crimes down
to misdemeanors, which would significantly reduce penalties.

A4 State Rep. Bob Heaton, R-Terre Haute, said neither does he support
Whitesell's comment to legalize and tax marijuana. "I am not for
that," Heaton said.

Heaton said the upcoming Indiana General Assembly may review some
proposed bills that would call for fines instead of jail sentences for
certain levels of marijuana use. "I would be willing to listen to
those bills. My philosophy is to listen to both sides and see what it
boils down to," Heaton said.

State Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, said he thinks there is a
movement in the General Assembly to lessen the penalties for someone
caught smoking marijuana or the amount of marijuana they can possess.

"I think this year it will be assigned to a committee," Kersey said.
"I think there may be a bill or two that would come down to more or
less legalize it and moving it toward medical marijuana, but I think
in the end that will probably go to a study committee next summer
where it will be studied in depth.

"After that, maybe in the 2014 or 2015 legislature, there may be a
bill that makes it through committee and there will be a vote on it. I
don't see anything big happening in this session," Kersey said.

Kersey said he disagrees with Whitesell's comments.

"I think that before I would vote on this I would have to see a lot of
studies on it and how the people in my district feel about legalizing
marijuana. I think that is a big step going from having laws that
arrest people and put people in jail for smoking marijuana or having a
certain amount in your possession, to legalizing and taxing it,"
Kersey said.

"At this point, I would not be interested in doing that," Kersey

Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse said legalizing marijuana would
present new problems, such as driving impaired from the use of
marijuana. "What Whitesell said is ridiculous, because if we didn't
regulate it, there would be more people driving around impaired than
we already have," Plasse said.

"If they legalize it, people will grown their own. They are not going
to go through the state to buy it. You will see all kinds of marijuana
fields where people will just harvest their own," Plasse said, "so the
revenue that Whitesell thinks they are going get will not be there. It
is not a valid argument to even go that way."

Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing said he voted in a Nov. 15 legislative
committee of the Indiana Sheriff's Association stating the association
is "not in support of decriminalizing marijuana. We are not in support
of it at all," he said.

"It is double-edged sword, and in my opinion, it is very dangerous
when you are saying that we are going to do this to either save money
or to raise money," Ewing said. "I don't know that toying with the
legalization of a narcotic for those particular purposes is going to
be beneficial in the big picture."

Ewing said enforcement of marijuana laws is not a waste of police

"Here in Vigo County, if you pull someone over and they have a
one-hitter on them - a one-hitter pipe with marijuana in it - or one
joint, you take the evidence, you write them a ticket and they appear
in city court," Ewing said.

"It takes up no more time to write that ticket than it does a speeding
ticket," Ewing said. "I am not talking about a van full of it, but it
is simply a cite and release. It is a misdemeanor and can be jailable,
but for small amounts we can issue an informational summons for them
to appear in court."

Ewing said the issue simply sends the wrong message.

The sheriff said he has deputies in schools "talking about the dangers
of alcohol abuse, tobacco and marijuana. What mixed message are we
sending?" Ewing said. "I am just not sure we need to utilize that to
save money."
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