News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 3, 2012

Local reps, cops just say no to legal pot

Some in Indiana want to weed out punishment for lesser offenses

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Some Vigo County police officials and Wabash Valley legislators oppose any move to legalize the use of marijuana.

The issue comes on the heels of Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell who advised a group of state legislators last week in a state budget committee that if it were up to him, he would “legalize and tax marijuana.”

State Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, who served as sheriff of Sullivan County from 1986 to 1994, disagrees with Whitesell’s statement.

“Coming out of law enforcement, I could not believe the superintendent’s statement on that. Most of the people you deal with on serious crimes started with marijuana. It is a gateway drug,” Waterman said.

“I don’t know how many times I sat with convicted felons that said it was the first thing they got involved with as a teenager, which led them down the path from vandalism, which went into burglaries or even armed robberies,” Waterman said.

He said the state should not incarcerate for small amounts of marijuana, but instead should form work details where offenders work weekends for a county or the state. Offenders would perform tasks such as clearing roadside brush, painting park structures or mowing lawns in parks. He said offenders should keep working during the week at their pre-existing job.

Waterman pointed to California’s use of allowing medical marijuana and said he is not against that as long as it is used in the pill form, such as the drug Idrasil. Such use can be controlled through prescriptions, Waterman said.

State Rep. Bob Heaton, R-Terre Haute, said neither does he support Whitesell’s comment to legalize and tax marijuana. “I am not for that,” Heaton said.

Heaton said the upcoming Indiana General Assembly may review some proposed bills that would call for fines instead of jail sentences for certain levels of marijuana use. “I would be willing to listen to those bills. My philosophy is to listen to both sides and see what it boils down to,” Heaton said.

State Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, said he thinks there is a movement in the General Assembly to lessen the penalties for someone caught smoking marijuana or the amount of marijuana they can possess.

“I think this year it will be assigned to a committee,” Kersey said. “I think there may be a bill or two that would come down to more or less legalize it and moving it toward medical marijuana, but I think in the end that will probably go to a study committee next summer where it will be studied in depth.

“After that, maybe in the 2014 or 2015 legislature, there may be a bill that makes it through committee and there will be a vote on it. I don’t see anything big happening in this session,” Kersey said.

Kersey said he disagrees with Whitesell’s comments.

“I think that before I would vote on this I would have to see a lot of studies on it and how the people in my district feel about legalizing marijuana. I think that is a big step going from having laws that arrest people and put people in jail for smoking marijuana or having a certain amount in your possession, to legalizing and taxing it,” Kersey said.

“At this point, I would not be interested in doing that,” Kersey said.

Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse said legalizing marijuana would present new problems, such as driving impaired from the use of marijuana. “What Whitesell said is ridiculous, because if we didn’t regulate it, there would be more people driving around impaired than we already have,” Plasse said.

“If they legalize it, people will grown their own. They are not going to go through the state to buy it. You will see all kinds of marijuana fields where people will just harvest their own,” Plasse said, “so the revenue that Whitesell thinks they are going get will not be there. It is not a valid argument to even go that way.”

Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing said he voted in a Nov. 15 legislative committee of the Indiana Sheriff’s Association stating the association is “not in support of decriminalizing marijuana. We are not in support of it at all,” he said.

“It is double-edged sword, and in my opinion, it is very dangerous when you are saying that we are going to do this to either save money or to raise money,” Ewing said. “I don’t know that toying with the legalization of a narcotic for those particular purposes is going to be beneficial in the big picture.”

Ewing said enforcement of marijuana laws is not a waste of police resources.

“Here in Vigo County, if you pull someone over and they have a one-hitter on them — a one-hitter pipe with marijuana in it — or one joint, you take the evidence, you write them a ticket and they appear in city court,” Ewing said.

“It takes up no more time to write that ticket than it does a speeding ticket,” Ewing said. “I am not talking about a van full of it, but it is simply a cite and release. It is a misdemeanor and can be jailable, but for small amounts we can issue an informational summons for them to appear in court.”

Ewing said the issue simply sends the wrong message.

The sheriff said he has deputies in schools “talking about the dangers of alcohol abuse, tobacco and marijuana. What mixed message are we sending?” Ewing said. “I am just not sure we need to utilize that to save money.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or