The prosecutor for the biggest county in Indiana just announced his office will no longer pursue simple marijuana possession cases. 

The decision from Marion County’s Prosecutor Ryan Mears was one of the first from his Indianapolis office since he took over last week after his former boss left for medical reasons. 

According to the announcement by Mears on Monday, the policy change will impact cases involving approximately one ounce or less of marijuana when the charge is the only or most serious charge against an adult. 

The experience Mears had as a deputy prosecutor and the rapidly changing marijuana policy in neighboring states were the leading factors in his decision. 

“I have come to this decision as a veteran prosecutor. I have seen the resources devoted to these prosecutions and believe those resources can be used more effectively to promote public safety, ensure justice for victims, and reduce recidivism,” Mears said, “When faced with the choice between prosecuting this and prosecuting acts of violence, my priority is clear.”

The statement also noted regardless of the new policy, recent years have seen a downward trend in the number of simple possession cases prosecuted in Marion County. 80 percent of the possession of marijuana charges in the county this year have already been dismissed. But the decision is retroactive to cases still on deck. Mears said his office will review those pending cases involving only possession of marijuana charges to see if any are impacted by the new policy.

Mears went on to speak about the impact the move would have in the communities hit the hardest by the war on marijuana. 

“Too often, an arrest for marijuana possession puts individuals into the system who otherwise would not be. That is not a win for our community,” Prosecutor Mears continued. “The enforcement of marijuana policy has disproportionately impacted people of color, and this is a first step to addressing that.”

A Start in a Harsh State

The Marijuana Policy Project notes that despite African Americans making up only 9.8 percent of Indiana’s population, they often bear the brunt of enforcement. MPP pointed to the ACLU’s 2013 report on the racial dynamics of marijuana enforcement that showed African Americans make up 27.6 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in Indiana. 

The new rules do not apply to minors under the age of 18 and the more obvious stuff like cases involving trafficking or dealing of marijuana and driving while under the influence. Those cases “will continue to be filed and prosecuted in Marion County.”

We can’t emphasize enough how harsh the pot laws are in Indiana, and this local change will go a long way in a place where a single joint can get you up to a year in jail and a fine of $5000. Indiana NORML was quick to point out how bad things still are in the rest of the state when we reached out; Chairman Neal Smith called the move a local flavor of “deprioritization.” 

“This is the first one we’ve been able to crack,” Smith told High Times in an email. “We’ve been talking with Prosecutor Terry Curry, who has stepped down due to health reasons. Curry and Mears are Progressive Democrats. Indiana Dems have been backing reform for a couple of years now. Our biggest roadblocks is the Republican stranglehold on state gov’t…House, Senate and Governor under GOP control. Our Attorney General, Curtis Hill, is an extreme prohibitionist.” 

Smith said the upshot of the Marion County news is the fact that it is the first affront to Republican rule in the cannabis arena. 15 cannabis bills were shot down in the legislative session earlier this year. 

“We’ve been talking to these and other counties for several years, and it’s finally paying off,” Smith said.

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