INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Many marijuana possession cases in Marion County will no longer be prosecuted.
Acting Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears made the announcement Monday morning.
Mears says his office will no longer prosecute adults on possession cases of less than one ounce when that charge is the only or the most serious charge.
“I have come to this decision as a veteran prosecutor. I have seen the resources devoted to these prosecutions and believe those resources can be used more effectively to promote public safety, ensure justice for victims, and reduce recidivism,” Mears said in a statement. “When faced with the choice between prosecuting this and prosecuting acts of violence, my priority is clear.”
The prosecutor’s office says about 80% of marijuana possession cases in 2019 have been dismissed.
Marion County ends adult prosecution of marijuana possession under 1 ounce
The new policy does not apply to minors, Mears’ statement said.
The announcement of the new policy came as a shock to many.
“I was really surprised [Monday] morning to see that they decided to make that decision, especially here in Indiana,” said local pastor James Carroll, who was on Monument Circle on Monday.
Mears said the announcement may have seemed abrupt, but it had been under consideration even when former Prosecutor Terry Curry was in office.
“This is absolutely something that I felt needed to be changed, but this is not a decision that you make overnight. This is something that we have thought about for a really long time,” Mears said.
Mears said the change is an effort to free up valuable resources and increase public safety.
“I believe that I have a moral responsibility to make sure that everybody is treated fairly under the law, and our review of the evidence indicated that people of color were not treated fairly,” Mears said.
Some people who spoke to News 8 said they thought the decision may be the first step toward a new conversation about legalizing marijuana.
“This (marijuana being illegal) is not a law that really helps anyone, and hopefully more cities and more states realize that,” said Kent Rogers, a former Indianapolis resident who was on Monument Circle on Monday.
But the new policy includes a list of important exceptions.
“Number one, if you are consuming it in public, we are still going to prosecute it. If you are drug dealing, if you are dealing marijuana, we are still going to prosecute it. If you are behind the wheel and you are impaired because of marijuana, we are still going to prosecute those types of cases,” Mears said.
Over the course of the last year, Marion County dismissed 81% of its cases related to possession of marijuana.
Mears said no clear connection exists between marijuana possession and violent crime.
“I think that we should really put out focus somewhere else, put our attention and our resources somewhere else because I think that we will be able to help more people that are having other issues,” Carroll said.
Mears said the office will review the 393 pending cases related to possession of marijuana in Marion County and will dismiss any cases that meet the criteria and are protected under the new policy.
He also said he plans to work with people who have been charged in the past with crimes that fall under the new policy to get their charges expunged.
In a statement Monday, the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 86 said officers had been directed “to continue to enforce the laws as proscribed by the State of Indiana”:
“Today we learned of the decision of the Acting Prosecutor to not prosecute misdemeanor violations of possession of marijuana in Marion County.
Our collective rank and file had no prior indication of this decision and we are trying to ascertain if others within the criminal justice community and city county government were aware of this move beforehand.
Such an across the board decision not only impacts our local community, but has implications for jurisdictions throughout our region and state.
While we recognize and value prosecutorial discretion, our law enforcement officers have significant concerns anytime a single person elects to unilaterally not enforce a state law as a matter of practice or policy.
We are attempting to better understand the basis for this decsion and any potential unintended outcomes.
In the interim, it is our understanding the IMPD Chief of Police has directed Officers to continue to enforce the laws as proscribed by the State of Indiana and we strongly concur.”
Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Bryan Roach released this statement Monday:
“The women and men of the IMPD remain focused on removing violent offenders from our neighborhoods and addressing the root causes of crime in our community. Discussions with our law enforcement partners will continue following today’s announcement to ensure we are doing all we can to build trust with our neighbors and make Indianapolis a safer city.”
IMPD Chief Bryan Roach
Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office released this statement:
“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.”
Taylor Schaffer, Deputy Chief of Staff – Communications
Attorney General Curtis Hill’s office released this statement:
“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.”
Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal released this statement:
“The new jail, currently under construction as a part of the Justice Complex, is not designed to hold many more inmates than are currently held between the combined public and private jails today. City leaders have repeatedly stated that we need to find ways to use fewer jail cells, and not more. To accomplish that, we have to change arresting procedures, which includes the diversion of addicts and the mentally ill into the health care system. As Marion County Sheriff, I welcome Prosecutor Ryan Mears’ decision not to file charges for Possession of Marijuana. Working together, we must commit to having the dangerous people in Jail, and focus our efforts on Marion County’s most violent criminals.”
State Sen. Jim Merritt, Republican candidate for mayor of Indianapolis, released this statement:
“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.”