News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 16, 2012

EDITORIAL: Toke ’em if ya got ’em?


The Tribune-Star

---- — By now, you’ve probably seen the images of exultant Washington state residents lighting up marijuana cigarettes and pipes at midnight Dec. 6 when a new state law went into effect that decriminalizes possession of up to an ounce of pot by those 21 and older. (That amount, just less than 30 grams, is enough for 30 to 90 joints, we’re told.)

And in Colorado, possessing up to an ounce of pot (or six plants) also is now legal. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday quietly declared approval of a change to the state constitution that was approved by voters in November. The Guv tweeted the news from Denver, the appropriately nicknamed Mile High City, apparently wanting to avoid a repeat of the Washington state scene from four days earlier when tokers gathered at the foot of the Space Needle in Seattle to inhale their new freedom.

Fewer than two dozen people puffed pot on the steps of Colorado’s state Capitol, the Associated Press reported, at 4:20 p.m. Monday — a time picked because 420 is stoners’ code for consuming pot.

Even though public marijuana use violates both states’ laws, cops in both locations were mellow about it, and just weren’t motivated to make arrests at those pot parties.

Despite what the brouhaha might at first suggest, neither state’s actions come close to legalizing all marijuana use. That remains a pipe dream.

Selling grass is still illegal in Washington state and Colorado, and the U.S. Justice Department still says that federal prohibitions on possession, growth and use of marijuana remain in force and that federal law still trumps state law.

Which means pot users in Washington state and Colorado may still be prosecuted on federal charges.

Also still ahead for Washington and Colorado: state licensing of marijuana growers, processors and retailers, and the application of 25-percent taxes at each of those stages. In both states, that tax revenue will produce millions for state coffers to fund such areas as education, social services and pensions.

But what for Indiana?

A Ball State study released Thursday reports that 53 percent of Hoosiers (69 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds) favor some decriminalization of pot. Many baby boomers who either smoked marijuana or at least experienced contact highs while of college age, look favorably on relatively free use of the drug, even though is it said to be more potent now than back in the day. And it may well be that what we call responsible marijuana use, akin to responsible drinking, is quietly accepted more and more these days in our communities. It also may well be that decriminalization of pot is in Indiana’s future — and that free use of marijuana would not, in the greater scheme of things, do great damage to our society.

But rather than legalizing any amount of pot now, we prefer to see how an alternative approach might work for Indiana — that of reducing sentences for possession of 10 grams or less of pot. That is part of the General Assembly’s Criminal Code Evaluation Committee’s work that is designed to better match jail sentences with seriousness of crime. As conservative Republican state Rep. Heath VanNatter told CNHI statehouse reporter Maureen Hayden early this month, “We need to be spending our prison dollars more efectively than putting people away for minor violations like some kid caught with a joint in his pocket.”

That stance makes great sense. Let’s see how that approach would serve Indiana, while also keeping close watch on the decriminalizations in Washington state and Colorado.