Marion County not prosecuting simple marijuana cases could lead to statewide change

This Aug. 15, 2019 file photo shows a marijuana plant in an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Marion County may no longer be prosecuting people with small amounts of marijuana, but so far that office stands alone.

Today, Eyewitness News checked with other prosecutors across central Indiana to see if they’ve considered the same thing. But so far, none have.

Prosecutors in Madison, Boone, Monroe, Shelby, St. Joseph and Hancock Counties all said they plan to continue prosecuting marijuana possession cases.

“We do everything we can to make decisions based on the code,” said Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton. “They [people in the community] entrust me to enforce the code.”

Earlier this week, Marion County’s acting prosecutor announced that people picked up for having one ounce or less won’t face charges. He said minor marijuana possession cases are clogging courts, overcrowding jails and taxing resources that could be better spent fighting violent criminals.

A spokesperson for the Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys, Inc. said the organization wouldn’t comment on Marion County’s decision, but that it remains opposed to the legalization of marijuana.

Could Marion County’s Decision Spur Statewide change?

State Senator Karen Tallian, D-District 4, has been pushing for nine years to relax the marijuana laws in Indiana. She said the Marion County Prosecutor's decision this week may give her movement some momentum.

"We're following in the footsteps of many other places that have started out their reforms in the same way," she said, citing New York City and Cook County, Illinois as examples.

In a email newsletter to constituents last month, Senator Jean Breaux, D-District 34, said, when it comes to marijuana legalization in Indiana, it's "time to do the right thing."

Today, 25 states have at least partially decriminalized marijuana. That means a ticket and fine instead of jail time.

Even so, Randy Miller, director of Drug Free Marion County, said he’s not so certain it'll happen here just yet.

"I think it sort of depends on what dominoes fall after this in some ways. You know, what other counties follow suit. What other cities follow suit," said Miller.

So far, none have.

But consider this: In a Ball State University poll last year, 39 percent of Hoosiers said marijuana should be legal for personal use. 42 percent said people should be able to use it for medical reasons. Sixteen percent said it should not be legal at all.

"I have always considered that marijuana is basically on par with alcohol, and we should pretty much treat it the same way," said Sen. Tallian, who plans to introduce legislation again in the next session to reform Indiana’s marijuana laws.

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