Marijuana reform is a hot topic of conversation in state legislatures around the country and not just in traditionally liberal states like California and Rhode Island. In fact, bills to make marijuana possession punishable by a fine only, rather than jail time, were introduced this year in conservative bastions like Arizona and Tennessee, and it’s a too-well-kept secret that such laws have been on the books since the ’70s in Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, and several other less-than-liberal states.
You can now add Indiana to the list of states where the conversation has gone mainstream. Last week, influential Republican state Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) announced he’d be introducing legislation to make possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana an “infraction,” punishable by fine, rather than a criminal misdemeanor.
“We have to ask ourselves as a society, do we really want to be locking people up for having a couple of joints in their pocket,” Steele told local media. “Is that how we want to be spending our criminal justice resources?” Steele also pointed out that several other states have already embraced similar policies, noting that “society didn’t melt down, and we didn’t turn into a drug-crazed culture as a result of it.”
Similar legislation has been introduced before by state Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage), but without the support of Republicans, who hold a majority in both chambers, it never got off the ground. Speculation is that Steele’s support could change that. Steele, who is closely allied with Indiana prosecutors and is described by Indiana political veterans as a “rock-ribbed law-and-order guy,” chairs the powerful Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters where the bill would likely be assigned.