How local and state officials responded to Marion County marijuana possession policy change

Posted at 4:44 PM, Sep 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-30 16:44:07-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Many state and local officials have responded Monday to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office policy change when it comes to possession of marijuana.
Misdemeanor possession charges of less than one ounce will no longer be prosecuted in Marion County, effective Monday.

Interim Prosecutor Ryan Mears said they found a lack of connection between violent crime in Indianapolis and simple marijuana possession cases.

MORE | Marion County will no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession cases

Tim Moriarty, the Special Counsel to Mayor Joe Hogsett, is running to be the next Marion County prosecutor. The Marion County Democratic Party will caucus on Saturday to decide who will become prosecutor.

In a statement, Moriarty said he would keep the policy change in place if elected.

Truly reforming our county's criminal justice system will require a holistic approach, and there's no doubt that the enforcement of marijuana possession charges have created inequity -- especially for communities of color. While I appreciate the Marion County Prosecutor's Office's abrupt change of course on this policy today, I believe it is critical we treat this step forward as the continuation of a journey, not the end. If elected Marion County Prosecutor on Saturday, I would keep this change in policy in place and work alongside the community to analyze its effects. But I do believe this new approach will only be successful if it is implemented alongside significant investments in treatment for substance abuse and mental health challenges. Righting the wrongs of the past will require more than the exercise of prosecutorial discretion -- it will require an office focused on prosecutorial action on behalf of our community.

Taylor Schaffer, spokesperson for Hogsett’s office, released the following statement about the policy change:

Over the last three years, Mayor Hogsett has focused on reforming our community’s criminal justice system, prioritizing treatment for those suffering from challenges related to mental health and addiction. While today’s abrupt announcement by the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office necessitates further discussion between criminal justice partners, it’s clear that our community’s focus should be on holding perpetrators of violent crime accountable and keeping those who don't belong in jail, out.

Sen. Jim Merritt, Hogsett’s Republican opponent in this year’s mayoral race, released the following statement via the Merritt for Indy campaign:

I applaud any and every effort to review the fairness of our criminal justice system as has been happening at the Indiana State House through criminal justice reform and study committees on Indiana’s Cannabis laws. However, as I have been saying throughout this campaign, there is serious work that needs to be done to dedicate resources to stopping violent crime in the city and any effort to stem the bloodshed in our streets is welcome.

In his statement, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill criticized the change. Hill is a former Elkhart County prosecutor.

I respect and support the fact that prosecutors have absolute discretion in deciding when to file criminal charges and how to allocate their resources. Typically, though, prosecutors carefully exercise this discretion on a case-by-case basis rather than proclaiming that in all cases they will ignore a particular state law not to their liking. I am concerned that this proclamation in Marion County will attract to Indianapolis people with a particular interest in communities where drug enforcement is lax. It seems to me a curious strategy to put out a welcome mat for lawbreakers in a community already facing challenges related to crime, homelessness and other social problems stemming from drug abuse.