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Ind. may reassess medical marijuana laws


By VINCE ZITO



Indiana may not currently have much in common with California, but that could change due to recent legislation that would place the Hoosier state one step closer to
decriminalizing marijuana.

Senate Bill 192 successfully passed through the Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters on Tuesday with a vote of 5-3.

The bill would require an existing committee to research the effects of marijuana’s current illegal status.

According to the Indiana General Assembly’s website, the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee would study marijuana’s possible medicinal usage, its effect on the Indiana justice system and whether or not it should be controlled and regulated like alcohol.

The bill is now on its way to the Indiana Senate.

“This is not a legalization bill,” said Joseph Padgett, political director and co-founder for Re-Legalize Indiana. “This is a study committee that would look at legalization and try to determine what is the best way forward for Indiana.”

Re-Legalize Indiana was launched last year to advocate the repeal of marijuana prohibition, Padgett said.

“Last year if you said the word ‘marijuana,’ most people would run away from you. Then (California’s) Proposition 19 came along and changed everything,” Padgett said. “All of a sudden we found people who were willing to talk about marijuana.”

Padgett is also a cannabis therapy patient and has been for years. He said it is the best treatment for the diabetic neuropathy in his legs.

Provided it passes the Senate and the House and is signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels, the
Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee would begin the marijuana investigation in the interim legislative session this summer.

Bill author Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, emphasized that the legislation would not have any fiscal impact to the state because the bill is not creating a new committee but rather allowing an existing committee to conduct the research.

After the bill was drafted, Tallian said she received hundreds of e-mails from individuals and organizations offering advice.

However, she said the bill’s language and intent was solely her doing.

“I’ve seen over the years way too many people being prosecuted for marijuana possession, being sent to jail for marijuana possession,” Tallian said. “I just thought it was time.”

Despite claiming she has widespread support from Hoosiers, she said some cautioned her against authoring the legislation.

“I’ve had people discourage me from doing this because they thought it might hurt me politically,” Tallian said, “I believe that won’t happen.”

She said she does not know when or if marijuana will be decriminalized in the near future but insisted this bill is primarily to get people to talk about the issues.

“It’s pretty bipartisan in its support,” Padgett said. “It’s hard to argue against a bill that establishes a debate.”

Morgan Fox, communications manager for Marijuana Policy Project, said 15 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws in place protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest under certain qualifying conditions.

Additionally, Fox said 12 states have some sort of decriminalization law under which the penalty is a fine rather than jail time.

He said despite increased support, lawmakers are still hesitant to initiate marijuana
reform.

“A lot of it is just being afraid of political backlash,” Fox said. “We see in polls that national and state level support for marijuana reform is increasing every day.”

As far as marijuana being illegal on the national level, Fox said the federal government usually will not take a proactive stance in enforcing marijuana laws as long as individuals follow their state by state rules.

“Attorney General Eric Holder released a memo to U.S. attorneys across the country warning them not to extend resources in prosecuting or investigating people that are operating within their individual state laws,” Fox said.

It is impossible to know how effective this bill, if passed, would be in bringing marijuana reform to Indiana.

But for now, Senate Bill 192 could be a way of determining if a revision of Indiana marijuana laws is the right move for the Hoosier state.

“It’s time to talk about it, I want to hear what the people of Indiana think,” Tallian said. “I believe in accumulating information, and I’ll get it wherever I can.”

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