While the Indiana General Assembly might only meet for a few months during the beginning of the year to actively file and pass legislation, the legislative process doesn’t start on the first day of the session. The news coverage might be more sparse than when sparks are flying during the General Assembly meetings, but legislators and others meet for interim committee hearings throughout the off-season to discuss a variety of issues likely to be addressed in one way or another during the session. These hearings can lay the groundwork for bills that will be introduced, as well as influencing which bills will receive hearings.
On Wednesday, September 18th, the interim Corrections and Criminal Code Committee met and discussed arrest statistics with David Powell, who represented the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC). The committee was led by Senator Mike Young, the same state senator who voted against Senator Karen Tallian’s amendments to make possession of cannabis and of paraphernalia an infraction during the 2019 session. During the interim committee hearing in September, Senator Young asked Powell if it might not be time to make the first offense of possession an infraction with a fine rather than a criminal offense. While a relatively tepid dip into the waters of ending the damage of cannabis prohibition, this proposal was still met with opposition from the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. If you want to watch the exchange yourself (it starts at the 2 hour and 50 minute mark), you can do so here. You can also read our transcription of the conversation below.
Young: I’m not really wanting to make it legal, but with all the states around us that are going to that, it appears even in Kentucky they are talking they could go to that (and I’m not talking about the driving issue), I’m wondering since it’s 21,000 [arrests for possession], almost 22,000 if you prorate it, is it better on the first time (so that we can try to keep it out [of court]), is to do it like an infraction and charge a high fine to do it, and then maybe on a second or third do a criminal offense?
Powell: If you’re asking me if I would support decriminalization, I would not. I think I know where everybody stands on this issue. Clearly marijuana is, along with alcohol OWI, we’ve got too many people impaired, whether it is marijuana or alcohol, whether it’s other drugs, and we know that-
Young: Oh, I’m not talking about the driving part, I’m leaving that aside, but let me ask you this: on marijuana possession, are all those driving?
Powell: No, those or just possession, so-
Senator Young: So, what I’m asking, because I’m not talking about driving, because I don’t want someone to kill somebody being impaired and driving a vehicle, but on all the other ones, because we have a lot of like college kids do this stuff, would it be better, because if I’m a parent and my kid did that and I got to pay the fine because they don’t have the money, I’m going to be pretty upset. So my question is does it make any sense at all that maybe on a first time charge that you have it an infraction and the fee is kinda high so you don’t want to do it but instead of making them a criminal on the first time, maybe on the second or the third?
Powell: My concern is, because here’s the deal, you know, there are a lot of folks that think that well we should just lower these penalties and the crime will go away. It doesn’t happen. So even if you lowered it to an infraction and made the second offense, they’re still going to use marijuana, it’s just going to take them two more times, they’re going to get hit with civil fines, and we got too many babies being born to mothers with marijuana in there system, and other drugs, so I don’t think we could ever advocate for making it okay to use marijuana.
Young: So what I’m saying is there might be some way to reduce the driving while suspended, but-
Powell: We’re working on that, but there is a way we can reduce some of the others with better awareness, and making people aware that vaping marijuana could kill you and there’s a lot of other negative health consequences with this.