Indiana is a very conservative state that’s traditionally been eons behind when it comes to cannabis regulations, however, small changes in different localities may eventually have a statewide impact – for the better.
Just to quickly get it out of the way – no, cannabis is NOT legal in the Hoosier state yet, neither for recreational nor medical purposes. Under current law, possession of 1 ounce or less is a misdemeanor offense that carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
But of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some grey areas here and there. And while these exceptions are currently limited to 1, maybe 2, counties, they’re creating an environment that’s conducive to progressive legal change; and the rest of the state won’t be able to hold out much longer.
Enter, Marion county.
No Longer Prosecuting Cannabis Cases
Marion county is home to the largest city in Indiana, as well as the 17th largest city in the United States: Indianapolis.
Last week, Marion County’s acting prosecutor Ryan Mears abruptly announced that his office would no longer be prosecuting people charged with possessing small amounts of cannabis. He said that cannabis cases are blocking up Indiana courts and overcrowding jails, and he believes the county’s resources would be better spent trying to curb violent crime.
His decision was sudden and unprecedented, and needless to say, was met with a quite a bit of backlash. Mears, however, says this isn’t a matter of politics – but rather, of morality. “I don’t think doing the right thing is a bold thing to do,” he told the IndyStar. “I’ve been a prosecutor for 12 years, I have the experience of seeing what causes violent crime. And over the course of 12 years, I can tell you, small amounts of marijuana is not our problem.”
“This is not a political decision,” he continued. “This is a moral decision. And I have a moral responsibility to make sure everybody is treated fairly under the law. And the continuing enforcement of marijuana laws is unjust and unfair to people of color. So I’m not going to do it.”
Mears’ office will also look into the 400+ pending possession cases and dismiss as many as possible, granted they meet a certain set of criteria.
But before you get too excited, know that just because you won’t actually be charged with cannabis possession, that doesn’t mean you’re completely in the clear. Police officers can still confiscate your buds, cite and even arrest you, but the charges will be dropped once they reach the prosecutor’s office.
“Lawrence police officers, like most Indiana law enforcement officers, are able to use their discretion in taking misdemeanor enforcement action, just like the Marion County prosecutor can use prosecutorial discretion when making final charging decisions,” Lawrence Deputy Chief Gary Woodruff said in a statement. “We’re continuing business as usual for the officers patrolling the streets and neighborhoods of Lawrence.”
So it’ll still be lost buds, lost money, and a whole lot of hassle; but it likely won’t continue much longer. The police departments are holding strong for now, but they’ll eventually get tired to making arrests and doing paperwork for an offender who will just be released anyway.
Now, if you step outside of Marion county, that’s a different story entirely. Even if you’re a Marion county resident, if you’re caught with cannabis in Hancock county for example, you WILL be prosecuted there. And such is the case throughout the whole state, so, be careful.
The CBD Conundrum
Many would argue that Mitch McConnell accidentally legalized cannabis with his push for hemp reform. Let me explain. Last year, the 2018 Farm Bill came with a provision to legalize hemp farming and products containing 0.3% THC or less, which includes Hemp Flowers, or CBD Buds.
These CBD Buds look, smell, and taste just like regular, THC-dominant cannabis buds, but because they’re under the threshold for THC content, they’re legal. They contain all the same terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids as regular cannabis, but only trace amounts of THC. Sounds pretty simple right? Well, when it comes to enforcing this law, the situation gets a bit hazy.
Because CBD Buds look, smell, and taste the same as their psychoactive counterpart, there is only one way to determine which one a suspect is in possession of – with a lab test. It’s a loophole like no other.
Sending each and every sample out for lab testing, at a lab that may or may not even be in the same state (in the case of Indiana, not), is expensive and time consuming, pushing many law enforcement agencies to give up on policing cannabis altogether.
As it stands, Indiana is the lone prohibited state surrounded by a sea of legal cannabis. Their neighbors on all sides have some sort of cannabis legislation on the books; Cannabis is completely legal for adults in Illinois and Michigan, Ohio has medical with talk of passing recreational, and Kentucky is in the process of approving a bill to legalize medical cannabis as we speak (or write), plus, they are on the forefront of hemp production.
Indiana is the only state in that region that has yet to make any forward moves, but many believe that this anti-cannabis era will soon come to an end. Just take a look at Terre Haute, a small city near the border of Illinois. Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse told the local newspaper that, “faced with recreational weed next door in Illinois, possession cases would likely result in just a ticket.”
And it’s not only local authorities who are coming around on the idea of cannabis. Former Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell has this to say about the subject: “It’s here, it’s going to stay, there’s an awful lot of victimization that goes with it. If it were up to me, I do believe I would legalize it and tax it, particularly in sight of the fact that several other states have now come to that part of their legal system as well.”
At this point, it makes no sense to continue enforcing archaic cannabis laws that benefit no one. Aside from the huge burden these regulations have on citizens, how do they impact the community and state as a whole? What are the costs associated with prosecution, incarceration, and probation? How does the criminal records of the thousands of Hoosiers convicted each year influence the labor force? What kind of effects does this have on productivity in the state?
These questions aren’t easy to answer, but here’s one thing we know for sure; cannabis = money, which can be used to make much-needed improvements in Indiana. Since legalization in 2014, Colorado has collected over $1 billion in cannabis tax revenue. This money has been used mostly for education improvements, but also for additional cannabis research, addiction treatment, affordable housing, and numerous other public programs.
When you look at it like that, cannabis legalization definitely seems a lot brighter, and hopefully the powers that be in Indiana see it the same way.
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