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State law enforcers differ with ISP boss on pot legalization

– The Indiana State Police chief’s opinion that marijuana should be legalized and taxed isn’t finding much support among law enforcement officials.

Superintendent Paul Whitesell responded to a question on the issue this week during a State Budget Committee meeting, saying the drug is here to stay and citing voter-passed measures in Colorado and Washington that allow adults to have small amounts of marijuana.

Some lawmakers plan to push next year for making possession of small amounts of marijuana an infraction carrying a fine rather than a criminal misdemeanor, arguing that too much money is spent on prosecuting and jailing people in such cases.

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak said state law allows for first-time violators to plead guilty and avoid jail time through community service, fines or drug education classes.

“For the advocates of legalizing marijuana to say that people are going to prison for small quantities, that’s not true,” Dvorak told the South Bend Tribune.

Denzil Lewis, a Vigo County detective, said decriminalization wouldn’t lead to less crime.

“To legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana does nothing but benefit the larger-scale drug dealers,” Lewis told WTHI-TV of Terre Haute. “... More people are going to want to get involved into the distribution of marijuana because now it’s more lucrative.”

A state police spokesman issued a statement Tuesday saying that Whitesell, an appointee of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, had given “a philosophical opinion,” not an official one.

Republican Gov.-elect Mike Pence hasn’t yet announced his pick to lead the state police.

“Gov.-elect Pence opposes the decriminalization,” spokeswoman Christy Denault said.

Whitesell’s comments add credibility to arguments that the state’s marijuana laws need to be changed, said Robin Alexander, a board member for the Indiana chapter of NORML, a group that advocates legalization of the drug.

“He’s right, he’s absolutely right, and he’s been on the force long enough to know what’s real,” Alexander said. “The penalties are much too severe, and they have been for a very long time.”

Current state law makes possessing 30 grams or less a Class A misdemeanor on the first offense and carries a jail sentence of up to one year. Possession of more than 30 grams – roughly an ounce – is a Class D felony that carries a potential sentence of one to three years in prison.