Acting Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears today announced his intention to no longer prosecute possession of marijuana cases involving approximately one ounce or less of marijuana when the charge is the only or most serious charge against an adult.
Mears first hinted at the policy change during a weekend interview with Indy Politics. He said his own experience as a deputy prosecutor and the evolving policies of neighboring states and jurisdictions prompted this decision.
“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,” Prosecutor Mears stated. “When faced with the choice between prosecuting this and prosecuting acts of violence, my priority is clear.”
In Marion County, the prosecution of possession of marijuana cases has declined in recent years, with a majority resulting in dismissals. During the first nine months of 2019, approximately 80 percent of the possession of marijuana charges have been dismissed.
“Too often, an arrest for marijuana possession puts individuals into the system who otherwise would not be. That is not a win for our community,” Prosecutor Mears continued. “The enforcement of marijuana policy has disproportionately impacted people of color, and this is a first step to addressing that.”
According to Indiana state law, possession of marijuana in an amount less than 30 grams can be prosecuted as a Level B Misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.
The policy does not apply to persons under the age of 18. Further, cases involving trafficking or dealing of marijuana and driving while under the influence of marijuana will continue to be filed and prosecuted in Marion County.
Mears said his office will review pending cases involving only possession of marijuana to determine which may be dismissed based on the new policy.
Mears policy change drew a reaction from both his challenger and Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill.
- “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.”
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill
- “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.”