Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

December 3, 2012

New penalties for marijuana?

THE ISSUE: Indiana State Police superintendent’s comment that, were it up to him, he would legalize marijuana.

OUR VIEW: Paul Whitesell meant prison isn’t the most tax-efficient way to discourage marijuana use.

The head of the Indiana State Police created a furor last week with comments to the State Budget Committee in favor of legalizing marijuana.

ISP Superintendent Paul Whitesell told committee members if he were in charge, he would legalize marijuana and put a tax on it. He said he believed marijuana was here to stay, and he cited votes in Colorado and Washington allowing adults to have small amounts of the substance as evidence of a national shift in opinion.

Many of Whitesell’s law enforcement colleagues were quick to react. Whitesell’s own department issued a statement saying Whitesell wasn’t speaking in his role as superintendent when he made the comment, and others in law enforcement said they disagreed with him on the issue.

Indiana’s governor-elect, Mike Pence, also went on record saying he opposed the idea of decriminalizing marijuana.

The idea is not without supporters, though. Sen. Brent Steele, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wants to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, turning possession of 10 grams or less into an infraction, similar to a speeding ticket.

A legislative commission, meanwhile, is recommending that the General Assembly overhaul the state’s drug laws to reduce penalties for low-level drug crimes. It also calls for reducing some felony-level marijuana crimes to misdemeanors, which would significantly reduce penalties.

One of the driving forces behind the proposed reforms is the cost of keeping low-level drug offenders in prison. Advocates say these offenders would be better served by community-based treatment programs.

The point people like Steele and Whitesell are trying to make is not that smoking marijuana is a good idea. It might even be a bad idea.

It’s definitely a bad idea to smoke marijuana and then get behind the steering wheel of a car.

But then, it’s also a bad idea to have a few beers after work and get behind the steering wheel of a car.

The two issues are really separate.

On the one hand, we have the question of whether to discourage marijuana use. On the other, we have the question of whether to invest tax dollars on arresting and jailing marijuana users.

The point folks like Steele and Whitesell are making is that doing the second is not the best way to accomplish the first.

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