Should Indiana Legalize Pot?: Local Criminal Justice Voices Weigh In

By Jeff Neumeyer

November 27, 2012 Updated Nov 28, 2012 at 7:14 PM EDT

INDIANA (www.incnow.tv) - Two sides to a big debate: should Indiana decriminalize the possession of marijuana?

Allen County's sheriff and a Fort Wayne defense lawyer shared their differing views on the idea.

Their opinions come after the superintendent of state police, Paul Whitesell, on Tuesday told members of the state budget committee that Indiana should join Colorado and Washington in decriminalizing and taxing small amounts of the drug for adults.

Sheriff Ken Fries says legalizing marijuana possession would be a colossal mistake.

He says contrary to popular opinion, jails are not crowded with small-time pot users.

In fact, he wants to step up a crack down on pot use, to try and keep teens and others from starting with marijuana, then moving on to other more addictive drugs like meth, cocaine and heroin.

Defense lawyer Michelle Kraus says research does not support the notion that pot is a gateway drug.

" I'm not aware of the studies which show that just because you start using marijuana and continue to use it, that that will necessarily lead to the use of other more dangerous drugs," Kraus said.

" Drugs are the center of all other crimes. People commit crimes to get money for drugs, people commit crimes when they're on drugs," Sheriff Fries said.

That's part of his argument, advocating for why we should not swing open the door and welcome more pot use.

He says there is a mindset developing that government can legalize pot, tax it, and make a lot of money off it.

Even if it would produce money for cash-strapped government entities, he fears it would usher in a degradation of our society that would far outweigh any monetary benefits.

Some say states passing a bill to legalize marijuana are simply making a symbolic gesture, since possession of the drug is still illegal in the federal system.

Sheriff Fries does not subscribe to that view.

He says the federal government doesn't have the resources to go after drug users, unless the quantities of drugs involved are substantial.

That’s why he and other Indiana sheriffs are prepared to lobby hard against any bill to decriminalize pot in the Hoosier state when the Indiana General Assembly convenes in January.

The fact that there are huge Republican majorities in both chambers of the legislature figures to diminish the likelihood of such a bill being passed in the upcoming session.

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