Indiana’s conversation on pot laws heats up

Posted on Dec. 5, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

Recent editorials from Indiana newspapers:

The Indianapolis Star:

A conversation about whether to decriminalize marijuana already was percolating in the Indiana Statehouse before State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell on Tuesday shared his thoughts on the matter with members of the State Budget Committee.

Whitesell, a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, went further than lawmakers might have expected, saying that, if left up to him, marijuana would be legalized and taxed.

Although state legislators are unlikely to embrace outright legalization (at least for now), recent public opinion polling shows that a majority of Hoosiers is ready to accept dropping criminal penalties against marijuana users who are found with small amounts of the drug.

Such a move gained fresh traction in the General Assembly this fall when two legislators — Republican Sen. Brent Steele and Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian — said they plan to introduce bills that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Current law calls for up to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail for possession of up to 30 grams of the drug. Steele wants to reduce the maximum penalty to a $500 fine with no threat of jail time for carrying 10 grams or less.

Tallian has unsuccessfully pushed similar bills in the past that would have decriminalized holding up to 100 grams of marijuana. ...

Steele approaches the issue from the perspective of a fiscal conservative, one who notes that more than 14,000 Hoosiers were convicted last year of marijuana possession. Those convictions require the expense of involving the police, the courts and in some cases the corrections system. However, the argument that small-time marijuana users are a true threat to society is hard to make.

Fifteen states — including Ohio, North Carolina and Nebraska — already have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. The idea deserves serious consideration in Indiana.

The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne:

Here’s the best news you never heard this week: Indiana students have the third-highest graduation rate in the nation.

The federal education department’s ranking method bases rates on students who enter school as ninth-graders and graduate within four years. The approach allows for direct comparison among states, but it still under-represents actual graduation success. There are students who need more time because of illness or injury — not every student who doesn’t graduate in four years is a high school dropout.

Great news, right? The U.S. Department of Education releases the first-ever apples-to-apples comparison of statewide grad rates, and Indiana finishes near the top with an 86 percent rate.

So why isn’t it worthy of mention by the Indiana Department of Education, which last week hyped increased school-voucher enrollment?

Ÿ Because the current administration knows better than to claim credit for the distinction, which is based on performance of the class of 2011. Progress comes from the deliberate, effective work done by former state schools chief Suellen Reed, her administration and educators across the state and is not tied to the costly, unproven school approaches approved by the General Assembly in the most recent years.

Ÿ Because evidence of school success does not justify efforts to turn over public schools to for-profit turnaround operators or to send tax dollars to low-performing charter schools or private and parochial schools with little accountability or oversight. How can you frame public schools as “failing” when they are doing nothing of the sort?

Indiana’s statewide rate tops No. 41 Florida’s rate by 15 percentage points, even as the administration hails that state as its model in so-called education reform. The District of Columbia — long a playground for the reform crowd — finished last with a rate of 59 percent. ...

Congratulations to the students, parents and educators whose hard work over many years is showing great results. State officials might not give you credit, but we will.

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