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STEVE ELLIOTT

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While the rest of the country moves towards softening its pot laws, Indiana may be marching in the opposite direction. The Hoosier State’s penalties for marijuana could get tougher after Gov. Mike Pence said he wanted stricter laws for low-level drug offenders.

The proposed increased penalties could come as part of a proposed overhaul of Indiana’s criminal sentencing laws, reports The Associated Press.

A state Senate committee is expected to vote Thursday on increasing the penalties for marijuana crimes at both the felony and misdemeanor levels.

One proposed change expected to be voted on Thursday would make possession of between about one-third of an ounce and 10 pounds of marijuana a felony rather than a misdemeanor, reports the Chesterton Tribune.

Sen. Brent Steele — who has in the past backed a plan to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis, making possession an infraction rather than a misdemeanor — said he was “comfortable” with the proposed change prompted by Gov. Pence’s stance.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wants to "send a message" to pot smokers [American Elephants]
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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wants to “send a message”
to pot smokers

The increased pot penalties are apparently part of a broader plan to direct more people convicted of low-level felonies to work release and other local programs, rather than sending them to prison. (It sounds suspiciously like a cash grab.)

The plan, however, would require those convicted of the most serious crimes to spend longer sentences in prison.

Pence said last week that he believed the bill should “send a message” that the state is “tough on drug dealers.”

The Indiana House already approved the bill by a wide margin in February, with support from many of the chamber’s most conservative and most liberal members.

The overhaul aims to put those convicted of nonviolent crimes into treatment and probation programs in their home counties rather than sending them to the state prison system for short stays, according to bill sponsor Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Avon).

Larry Landis, Indiana Public Defender Council: "Quote" [Chris Meyer/Indiana University]
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Larry Landis, Indiana Public Defender Council:
“Lowering penalties and lowering crime
are not mutually exclusive”
[Chris Meyer/Indiana University]

Another provision of the new proposal would require than felons serve at least 75 percent of their sentences, up from the 50 percent or less than inmates might now serve if they earn good time and education credits while in prison.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and other law enforcement types are, surprise surprise, supporting the bill.

But Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said he was worried that the overhaul will leave the Indiana Department of Correction with too many long-term inmates and not reduce prison costs. Landis said he was concerned that Gov. Pence wasn’t aware of the value of not exposing low-level offenders to high-risk criminals behind bars.

“Lowering penalties and lower crime are not mutually exclusive,” Landis said. “You can do both at the same time if you target the right population.”

 

 

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