INDIANAPOLIS | Reducing or eliminating penalties for minor marijuana possession and legalizing industrial hemp production could add more than $250 million a year to Indiana's bottom line.
According to economic impact estimates presented Thursday to a legislative committee studying the state's marijuana laws, decriminalization would save up to $200 million a year in reduced police, court and prison expenses, while legalizing and taxing marijuana could bring in $50 million of new sales tax revenue.
"There's a lot of money and time to be saved in our court system," said state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes.
For more than four hours, a panel of state representatives and senators listened attentively as several Hoosiers spoke emotionally of their need for marijuana as medicine -- despite its illegality -- as no other drug or treatment can relieve their chronic pain.
In addition, lawyers and academic experts testified to the selective prosecution of many marijuana possession cases in Indiana, while others spoke of the new jobs and tax revenue that would come by having farmers plant industrial hemp, a form of marijuana that can be turned into everything from clothing to diesel fuel.
State Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, the committee chairman, said he purchased a hemp shirt on a lark last summer and after wearing it repeatedly it's still soft, wrinkle-free and "the best shirt I ever bought."
Tallian said based on the positive response of state lawmakers to Thursday's testimony she expects to sponsor legislation in 2012 to change Indiana's marijuana laws, most likely altering criminal sanctions.
Currently possession of any marijuana can result in a one-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine, while a second possession conviction or possession of more than 30 grams, enough for about 30-40 marijuana cigarettes, nets up to a three-year prison term.
"The laws across the country have changed dramatically over the past decade or so," Tallian said, noting changes made in 30 other states. "I think we're going to have the basis for something next year."