01/22/2014 11:59 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Indiana Considers Decriminalizing Small Amounts Of Marijuana

Indiana, which has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation, is thinking about decriminalizing the possession of smaller amounts of the drug.

The current law in Indiana says that possession of even half a gram of weed is a criminal offense that can result in a $5,000 fine and up to a year behind bars. But a new bill introduced last week by state Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) would make possessing less than two ounces of cannabis a civil offense, similar to a parking violation.

Supporters of decriminalization say the bill would save taxpayer dollars and free up law enforcement resources to focus on other types of crimes, such as robberies, rapes and murders.

Although a majority of Indiana residents support decriminalization, the bill may still have a tough time becoming law. The Indiana legislature failed to pass similar measures last year and the year before. The state's Republican governor, Mike Pence, spoke out in March 2013 against lowering penalties for possession. Pence has also said he considers marijuana to be a "gateway drug."

In 2012, the head of the Indiana State Police said he supported fully legalizing marijuana.

"It’s here, it’s going to stay, [and] there’s an awful lot of victimization that goes with it," said Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell, reflecting on 40 years of experience enforcing drug laws, according to local radio station WFPL.

A spokesman for the Indiana State Police later walked back Whitesell's comments.

Tallian's bill, known as SB 314, will go to Indiana's Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee for discussion.



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