On September 30, 2019, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears announced a significant policy change: Effective immediately, his office will no longer be prosecuting people for simple marijuana possession. Simple refers to possession of anything less than 30 grams, which is a Class B misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. This change will have no effect on dealing as a Class A misdemeanor, and that charge will remain available to prosecutors.
Let’s note a couple of important things up front: 1) This may be a big change, but it’s not a change to State law—it’s a new, hands-off strategy for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. 2) Prosecutor Mears is only serving in an interim capacity following Terry Curry’s abrupt resignation on September 23, 2019. Nothing about this arrangement is permanent, although Marion County prosecutor candidate Tim Moriarty has indicated that if he’s elected, he’ll continue with Mears’ approach.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, on the other hand, has already characterized the new policy as “put[ting] out a welcome mat for lawbreakers in a community already facing challenges related to crime, homelessness and other social problems stemming from drug abuse.” The Attorney General is absolutely right that Indianapolis has some serious issues that need to be addressed, but he seems to be overstating the case against cannabis. While there are very few studies even attempting to show a causal link between marijuana use and violent crime, the fact that marijuana prosecutions have an overall disproportionate effect on people of color (see here, here, here and here for examples) is so well-established at this point as to be common knowledge. It’s almost as if the effects of our antiquated laws are more harmful than those of the vices they were designed to suppress.
In one sense, the new Marion County policy is a very small step toward decriminalization. There are 92 counties in Indiana, and 91 of them will still throw you in jail for having a sack of plant clippings in your pocket. In another sense, though—this is huge. In the context of the nationwide legalization movement, this provides some evidence to the outside world that Indiana is continuing to evolve its thinking along with other Midwestern states like Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.
A sign of hope, alas, shouldn’t be mistaken for a sign of victory. On the day this was announced, the Marc Lopez Law Firm started receiving phone calls from hopeful clients wondering if they were okay to start smoking weed while serving the remainder of their respective sentences on probation or home detention. The answer to this question is NO. Here are some other NOs for the curious ganja enthusiast:
- NO, you can’t smoke in public with impunity.
- NO, you’re not allowed to get lifted while operating a vehicle.
- NO, this doesn’t mean your employer isn’t allowed to drug test you.
- NO, the prosecutor isn’t obligated to dismiss the possession charges you’re currently facing.
While Attorney Marc Lopez endorses this new move as a baby step in the right direction, he also acknowledges that things are about to get a lot more complicated in Marion County. Both the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police, for example, have subsequently issued statements asserting that they intend to continue enforcing the law. Does this mean IMPD officers will be arresting people for misdemeanor possession, confiscating their weed, and then releasing them the next day with no charges filed? We’re in uncharted territory here, and we simply don’t know. Some people get emotional when you ask them to change, but at least one person appears to be committed to viewing this from a practical perspective: When asked for comment, Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal has publicly welcomed the prospect of not clogging his jails with non-violent dope-smokers.
In times as strange as these, it only makes sense to Plead the 5th. If you have questions about marijuana possession or any other criminal matter, give us a call at 317-632-3642.