Indiana: Governor To Sign Bill Increasing Penalties For Marijuana

(Photo: American Elephants)By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

With the rest of the United States moving toward relaxing the marijuana laws, Indiana seems to be bravely marching into the past. The Hoosier State's penalties for marijuana are getting tougher after Gov. Mike Pence requested -- and got -- stricter laws for low-level cannabis offenders.

The bill, HB 1006, still has at least one committee hearing, then it goes to the full Senate for a vote, Skywolf Neal Smith of Indiana NORML told Hemp News on Wednesday. It could be changed in committee or on the Senate floor; if there are significant changes, it will have to go back through the House for approval of the Senate changes, Smith said.

The increased penalties come as part of an overhaul of Indiana's criminal sentencing laws; possession of anything over about one-third of an ounce of marijuana is now a felony in Indiana. Pence said last week that he believed the bill would "send a message that the state is "tough on drug dealers."

Another part of the new law would require that felons -- which, of course, now include low-level pot possession defendants -- serve at least 75 percent of their sentences, up from the 50 percent or less that inmates might now serve if they earn good time and education credits while in prison.

Why on earth would a state increase the penalties for cannabis, when the entire country is moving in the other direction? Two words, according to Grizzard at The Daily Kos: private prisons.

The private prison lobby makes big campaign contributions to politicians, in order to secure harsher penalties, The Daily Kos reports. Those private correctional companies need warm bodies inside those cells to turn a profit -- and they can actually put people to work inside the prisons, in a form of legalized slave labopr.

Marijuana offenders, according to Grizzard, are "just the sorts of people these prison profiteers are looking for. They're mostly non-violent people who will comply. They can be put to work without much worry."

The private prison company called GEO Group -- one of the largest such companies in the United States -- has spent more than $3 million in direct campaign contributions, most of that going to Republicans.

GEO specifically contributed $12,500 to the 2012 Mike Pence campaign, making the private prison company one of the Governor's top 30 contributors.

The group has also thrown money at Republican Brian Bosma, Speaker of the Indiana House, who has been quoted as saying "As an entry drug, I think marijuana is more powerful than it's given credit for. I know some states have taken that step (to legalize it), but I don't find it advisable at this point."

When GEO built a 2,416-bed prison in New Castle, Indiana, the state signed a contract guaranteeing the for-profit prison company that 90 percent of the beds would stay filled.

(Photo: American Elephants)