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Indiana police leader says he'd legalize marijuana

The head of the Indiana State Police is telling lawmakers he would legalize and tax marijuana if it were up to him.
ISP Supt. Paul Whitesell

The Indiana State Police are backpedaling after their leader said he would favor the legalization of marijuana in Indiana if it is taxed.

ISP Superintendent Paul Whitesell told a committee of lawmakers Tuesday that marijuana is here to stay and there's a national trend toward allowing adults to have small amounts.

For 40-plus years, police, politicians, and pastors have preached on the danger of pot. But cops seen in 1970s TV public service spots might be surprised what Whitesell said about the drug Tuesday.

"Well I am surprised," said State Representative Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette). "Because I am asked that question."

So Klinker asked Whitesell what he thought of legalizing marijuana.

"I really thought, because I was asked that question so readily, I would ask him," Klinker explained. "I was surprised at his answer.  He said he thought that probably it was time to legalize certain amounts of marijuana, control it, have people watch over it and then tax it."

Whitesell said after seeing pot arrests through a 40-year career, "It is here it is going to stay."

The State Police chief was laying out his budget needs at the State Budget Committee. He didn't bring pot up, Klinker did.

But in a few hours, ISP issued a clarification.

"Superintendent Whitesell rendered a philosophical opinion," it said, "not a rendered legal opinion."

They added that, as a police officer, Whitesell "does not support the legalization of marijuana."

Outside a shop in Broad Ripple that sells smoking and other supplies, there was some expected and unexpected reaction.

Sage Foster, who works at 20 After Four and More, said, "Taxpayers' money could be better spent on other causes."

While Foster thinks legalization would be a good idea, customer David Johnson had a differing opinion.

"Basically telling kids and everything they can go buy drugs," he said.

Even Rep. Klinker sees it two ways.

"I worry about children. Marijuana perhaps being a gateway drug for other drugs," she said.

But on the other side, she says, "Tax it, and then use the dollars to not only control it, but for pensions, relief."

The Indiana Senate is expected to take up decriminalizing smaller amounts of pot. Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) will push that idea in the next session.

Colorado and Washington state legalized the possession and sale of marijuana for adult recreational use in the November election, although it's unclear if the new laws will survive federal challenges.

Indiana State Police statement

"Earlier today Superintendent Whitesell was addressing the State Budget Committee; this is a forum where state agency heads present their biennial budgets. This is not a forum where new laws are proposed, formulated or drafted. However, this is also an opportunity for law makers to freely discuss issues of their own concern. After presenting the state police budget proposal, Representative Sheila Klinker asked Supt. Whitesell if she could pose a controversial question related to the legalization of marijuana. Superintendent Whitesell rendered a philosophical opinion on the long-standing controversy regarding the legalization and taxing of marijuana. The Superintendent addressed some of the various legal, social and economic trappings of the controversy and recognized the theoretical argument that some hold that the substance should be legalized and taxed as it is in some states already. He finished the exchange by underscoring the fact that the State Police would respond to the issue in whatever manner the legislature brings forward. His comments were of a philosophical perspective and not the substance of a rendered official opinion. The making of such laws are not the purview of the State Police and he was not asked for an opinion in that context. Although the Superintendent personally understands the theoretical argument for taxation and legalization, as a police officer with over 40 years of experience he does not support the legalization of marijuana."

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