Ryan Mears is the recently elected Marion County Prosecutor and takes over for Terry Curry, who held the position since 2011. Prior to being elected as prosecutor, Mr. Mears instituted a new policy regarding “simple” marijuana possession in Marion County. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office is exercising its discretion to not prosecute marijuana possession for an amount less than one ounce (or 28.35 grams). According to Mr. Mears, the Marion County Prosecutor was already dropping over 80% of simple marijuana possession cases. Possession of marijuana in Indiana is generally a Class B Misdemeanor, but can be enhanced to a Class A Misdemeanor or a Level 6 Felony depending on prior convictions for drug offenses and whether the amount is more than 30 grams. Class B Misdemeanors can carry a sentence up to 180 days imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.
This new policy is a pretty major and progressive step for Indiana, and it is certainly interesting how this change occurred. The change did not come about by the voters, but by prosecutorial discretion. If you have ever wondered how much power prosecutors have, Mr. Mears’ decision is Exhibit A. There are two stages to criminal procedure: the police (investigation and arrest) and the prosecutor (adjudication). Police actions can be totally negated by a prosecutor deciding not to pursue a case. This new marijuana policy in Marion County reflects the national trend. Recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in 11 states, including Indiana neighbors Michigan and Illinois, and medical marijuana has been legalized in 33 states, including Indiana neighbor Ohio. Since Marion County includes Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana, and is the most populated county in Indiana, this new marijuana policy could affect Indiana law in the future and be a sign of things to come.
I think this is the right move and, hopefully, will help move Indiana towards total legalization of marijuana. Mr. Mears stated that he wanted to focus more on violent crime and eliminate the negative effects that marijuana arrests and prosecutions have had on minorities, which are pretty darn good reasons. The US has the highest number of incarcerated people in the world at almost 2.2 million, and a disproportionate number of US incarcerated people are black and Hispanic. Decriminalizing marijuana would have a positive effect on the sheer amount of incarcerated people in the US and make the criminal justice system more fair and just towards minorities. I would argue that there are legal drugs, such as cigarettes and alcohol, that are more dangerous to society than marijuana. I have seen the terrible effects that hard drugs like opiates and meth can have on people. While I would not encourage people to use drugs, I honestly would encourage people who use heroin or meth to use marijuana instead. Marijuana is not addictive and it cannot kill you.
Legalizing marijuana will have a positive effect on the 4th Amendment rights of people. The 4th Amendment gives people the right against unreasonable searches and seizures to their persons and property, and searches and seizures generally require a warrant supported by probable cause. However, exceptions to the 4th Amendment exist. Police officers often times use the smell of marijuana as an exception to the 4th Amendment to search people, vehicles, etc. following an initial stop. A good number of arrests come from the fruits of these resulting searches. If marijuana was legalized, even just medical, police officers would not be able to use the smell of marijuana as an exception to the 4th Amendment to search people and property. As stated above, too many people are being arrested and incarcerated in the U.S. The legalization of marijuana would have a positive effect on reducing the number of persons in the criminal justice system by eliminating the marijuana smell exception to search.
Finally, Indiana is a farm state. Marijuana can be grown in Indiana. I read an article not too long ago in the Indy Star that stated Indiana is the sweet spot for growing hemp, and marijuana is pretty darn similar to hemp. Farmers, business people, etc. could make a ton of money off of marijuana, which would create a ton of tax revenue for the state. Sounds pretty good to me. There are certainly areas in Indiana that have been hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Marijuana is something that could create jobs in Indiana.
I applaud the recent marijuana policy of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, and we will see what effect it has on Indiana law regarding marijuana in the future.