INDIANAPOLIS — The House of Representatives made history Friday by passing a bill to decriminalize cannabis which would end the federal ban on marijuana. The "MORE Act" (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement) is a major sign that many Americans are changing their stance on pot, though it's not likely to become a law any time soon.
"It's just nice and refreshing to see Congress act in a way that's simple and sensible that reflects how most people feel," Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said. We talked to Mears for this story because of his decision to not prosecute certain marijuana cases in Marion County.
According to the ACLU, which analyzed arrest data from across the country, Black people are arrested 3.6 times the rate of white people for marijuana possession. It's a trend that troubles Mears.
"We're going to make sure that when our laws are applied, they apply to everyone fairly and equally and if that's not happening, we're going to act which is why I was comfortable making that decision to no longer prosecute marijuana cases," Mears said.
When Mears made that decision in September 2019, there was immediate pushback from law enforcement in Marion County. IMPD, along with Lawrence and Speedway Police Departments made a point to say they were going to continue making arrests for marijuana.
Mears says if the federal government made marijuana legal, it would more than likely change law enforcement's take on the issues
"It would send a clear message to law enforcement that this no longer needs to be a priority," Mears said. "There are better things we could be doing with our time in law enforcement. It's important that we prioritize things like violent crime."
"Ryan Mears only impacts one county and that's Marion County. He's done a very positive thing with his choice to do that, but if it were spread across the state, we would see more successes I think," William Henry, Chairm for Indiana NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) said. He's hopeful now more than ever the federal government will end their ban on marijuana thanks in big part to public support.
"There's a lot of people who've personally been impacted by cannabis possession or their families have been impacted by that or their whole families all together," Henry said.
"The collateral consequences are incredible. It impacts people's ability to get students loan, get a job, where you can live. If you have prior felony convictions, even if it is for marijuana, there are lot of apartments won't rent to you," Mears said.
With all those life altering impacts, Mears tells WRTV it's past time for marijuana decriminalization and he's doing his part to turn the tide.
"It is imperative that we limit the contact people have with the criminal justice system especially when that contact involves non violent offenders," Mears said. "We have unfortunately created this situation that people of color are having more contact with the law enforcement system when people who are white don’t have the same situation.
The marijuana decriminalization bill passed in the Democrat-controlled House, mostly along party lines.
Opponents say marijuana is a gateway drug and responsible for an increase in traffic deaths.
The Senate, controlled by Republicans, is not likely to take it up in the last two weeks of the current congressional session.