Senator drops push to force Indiana marijuana prosecutions

A Republican state senator has dropped a proposal attacking what he called “social justice prosecution” by empowering Indiana’s attorney general to appoint special prosecutors to take over criminal cases that local authorities decide they won’t pursue.

The proposal followed Democratic Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears’ new policy of not pressing charges for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Republicans who control the Statehouse remain firm against marijuana legalization, as has happened in Michigan and Illinois. Medicinal marijuana also is legal in Ohio.

The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis, Senate Bill 436, died when he didn’t call it for action before a legislative deadline on Monday. That came a week after the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council argued the proposal wrongly usurped the discretion that county prosecutors must have about how to use their staff and budgets on which cases to pursue.

Mears announced in September that his office wouldn’t pursue charges against adults for possessing about 1 ounce or less of marijuana, saying the office would focus on prosecuting violent crimes. Since then, officials in northwestern Indiana’s Lake County started considering whether to give sheriff’s deputies the discretion to write a $50 to $250 ticket for small levels of marijuana, instead of taking someone to jail.

Young said Tuesday that other states had a variety of ways for higher officials to intervene in criminal prosecutions and that he would seek to have a special committee review the issue after this year’s legislative session. Young said his proposal wasn’t just about Mears’ action and that it could also cover a situation such as a prosecutor deciding not to pursue violations of the state hate crimes law adopted last year.

“The problem is when you just say ‘I’m not going to prosecute this law at all,’ that’s prosecutorial nullification and that’s making one person the Legislature instead of us,” Young said.

Young said his proposal stemmed from decisions by prosecutors in Boston and San Francisco to stop pressing charges in cases such as trespassing, disorderly conduct or prostitution.

“It’s because of the social justice prosecution phenomena that’s going on throughout the country,” Young said last week. “I wanted to try to head it off in Indiana.”

Even if the proposal had cleared the Senate, it faced uncertainty in the House. Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said the idea of shifting prosecution authority away from local elected officials had “a good deal of baggage.”

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