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Indiana GOP Lawmakers Seek to Override Relaxed Marijuana Laws in Indianapolis

GOP State Senator Michael Young derided the choice not to prosecute simple possession cases in Marion County.

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If local officials no longer want to enforce anti-marijuana laws, Indiana Republicans want the state to step in. 

That is the gist of the legislation that was approved Tuesday by a panel in the state senate. The bill would allow the Indiana attorney general’s office to intervene if a county prosecutor were to not enforce a particular law—a direct response to a policy announced last year by the prosecutor of Marion County, where the capital and largest city Indianapolis is located, to no longer pursue simple marijuana possession cases.

The bill, introduced by Indianapolis GOP state Sen. Michael Young, was endorsed by a 6-3 vote by a state Senate committee.

“It’s because of the social justice prosecution phenomena that’s going on throughout the country,” Young said, as quoted by the Associated Press. “I wanted to try to head it off in Indiana.”

Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, a Democrat, announced in September that his office would “no longer prosecute possession of marijuana cases involving approximately one ounce or less of marijuana when the charge is the only or most serious charge against an adult.”

“I have come to this decision as a veteran prosecutor. I have seen the resources devoted to these prosecutions and believe those resources can be used more effectively to promote public safety, ensure justice for victims, and reduce recidivism,” Mears said at the time. “When faced with the choice between prosecuting this and prosecuting acts of violence, my priority is clear.”

“Too often, an arrest for marijuana possession puts individuals into the system who otherwise would not be. That is not a win for our community,” Mears added. “The enforcement of marijuana policy has disproportionately impacted people of color, and this is a first step to addressing that.”

But Indiana Republicans—from the state’s governor to the attorney general to legislators like Young — are not on board with legalization, which has arrived in neighboring states, most recently Illinois.

Pot as a Partisan Issue

Young’s proposal is yet another example of the partisan divide on the issue in the Hoosier State. Just last month, one of his Young’s Democratic colleagues in the state Senate, Karen Tallian, filed legislation to decriminalize pot. 

On Tuesday, Mears told the IndyStar that Republicans like Young were avoiding addressing the issue head on.

“I would like to think that the constituents of those elected representatives want to know where their elected officials stand on the issue of marijuana and whether or not medical marijuana is appropriate, or decriminalization is appropriate,” Mears told the newspaper. “Especially given what our neighboring states are doing as it relates to the regulation of marijuana.”

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