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Lake County plan for marijuana possession tickets could get boost from state lawmakers

Members of the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee discuss legislation Wednesday that would clarify the existing option for Indiana law enforcement to simply issue a court summons for most misdemeanor crimes committed in their presence, instead of arresting the alleged perpetrator.

The Lake County Council's goal for police to issue tickets for misdemeanor marijuana possession, instead of officers hauling people off to the county jail, could get a boost from state lawmakers.

On Wednesday, the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee began considering bipartisan legislation that would clarify the authority of police to simply issue a summons to appear in court for a misdemeanor offense, rather than arresting the alleged perpetrator.

State law already permits police to issue a summons for all misdemeanor crimes, except domestic violence and driving while intoxicated, but officers generally are reluctant to use that authority because often there are no standard procedures for doing so, the committee learned.

As currently written, House Bill 1076 would mandate police always issue a summons for a nonviolent misdemeanor committed in their presence. Though that is likely to again be made optional before the committee considers next week whether to advance the proposal to the full House.

Nevertheless, Democratic Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said an explicit endorsement of the summons in lieu of arrest option by the Republican-controlled General Assembly would go a long way toward expanding its use across the state, especially in counties experiencing jail overcrowding.

"It would help to have the Legislature push us in the right direction on this issue," Mears said. "This legislation is taking leadership on the issue by saying, 'Here are the standards. Here are the guideposts.'"

Clear standards likely would assist Lake County officials as they continue crafting a plan authorizing police to issue civil fines, similar to traffic tickets, for marijuana possession in the county.

Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said Lake County is not looking to encourage the use of marijuana.

But, he said, with Illinois and Michigan having legalized recreational use, Lake County doesn't want to bear the costs of arresting and jailing people nabbed in Indiana for possessing a product they legally purchased elsewhere.

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