ISP superintendent's comments rekindle pot debate

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The latest debate on the decriminalization of marijuana in Indiana started in an unlikely place.

The state's top police officer, Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell, said Tuesday he would support legalizing marijuana in Indiana. There's also growing support to make possession of a small amount of the drug just a misdemeanor offense in Indiana.

In a Howey-DePauw poll from earlier this month, 54 percent of the people in Indiana either favor or "strongly favor" decriminalizing pot. Thirty-seven percent either oppose or "strongly oppose" the idea. Ten percent say they are unsure.

"It's here. It's going to stay. There is a lot of victimization that goes with it. If it were up to me, I'd legalize it and tax it. Particularly in sight of the fact that other states have now come to that part of their legal system, as well," Whitesell said Tuesday.

"We are very happy he said that, even though the State Police tried to backpedal from it," said Neal Smith.

Smith is with Indiana NORML - the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana - and argues the state is already paying around $150 million a year to incarcerate Hoosiers found in possession of marijuana. If the drug is legalized, Smith says, that money can be spent elsewhere.

"To lock up pot smokers at a time when the state is laying off police officers, firefighters, EMTs, teachers and closing libraries," said Smith.

Which underscores the problem. Lawmakers are always looking for new ways to generate revenue. That led to the expansion of gambling in the state.

"It shouldn't be the primary reason to legalize marijuana, but it does generate tax revenues and when you have legitimate businesses selling it, it's a lot better in terms of regulation than having illegitimate businesses doing it in the underground economy," said Butler business professor Dr. Bill Rieber.

According to a study of marijuana usage in Indiana from 2009, 57 percent of all drug arrests in the state are for marijuana. Eighty-eight percent of those are for minor possession amounts.

The Indiana State Police issued a quick response Tuesday, saying Whitesell wasn't speaking in his role as superintendent.

Colorado and Washington have already legalized it for recreational use.