INDIANAPOLIS, IN — A Senate committee is expected to vote Thursday on an amendment to a bill that would, among other things, increase the penalties of low-level marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a felony.
House Bill 1006, introduced by Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Avon) has already been approved by the House, who voted 80-13 in favor of the bill last month.
The bill was originally intended to rewrite the criminal code to lessen penalties for low-level drug offenders and toughen punishment for the worst sex and violent offenders, directing more people convicted of low-level felonies to work release and other local programs rather than sending them to prison, but Gov. Mike Pence wants the state to be stricter on low-level drug offenders while sending a message that the state is tough on drug dealers.
At a press conference last week, Gov. Pence told reporters that he was unhappy with the bill’s provisions that would decrease penalties for entry-level drug offenses.
“I think we need to work on reducing crime, not reducing penalties,” Pence said during the press conference.
On Tuesday, the state Senate’s Criminal Law Committee discussed a change to the proposed bill that would increase the felony and misdemeanor levels of marijuana dealing and possession charges.
That proposed change, which is expected to be voted on Thursday by the Senate Committee on Corrections & Criminal Law, would make possession of between about one-third of an ounce and 10 pounds of marijuana the lowest-level felony rather than the highest-level misdemeanor.
The bill makes sweeping changes to the Indiana criminal justice code, increasing penalties for many crimes, not just simple marijuana possession.
“This bill is not soft on crime by any means,” Rep. Steuerwald said. “We have ramped up the penalties on rape, child solicitation, child seduction, sexual battery, sexual misconduct with a minor. All those things are amped up.”
Provisions of the plan include dropping the state’s current four-tier system of felonies that range from class A, the most serious felonies with the longest sentences, to class D.
It would be replaced by a six-tier system, with class 1 being the most serious.
The state Department of Corrections has voiced concerns over the bill, projecting that the bill’s passage will lead to heavily increased population of the state’s prisons.
The DOC projects that the state’s prison population could grow by 70 percent in 20 years if the bill becomes law.