Drug War

Indianapolis' Top Prosecutor Says He'll Stop Charging Simple Marijuana Possession

Marion County, Indiana, joins a growing list of jurisdictions where prosecutors are refusing to file charges for petty marijuana offenses.

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Indianapolis' top prosecutor announced Monday that his office will no longer file charges for possession of under an ounce of marijuana.

The policy change by Ryan Mears, Marion County's temporary prosecutor, is the latest move by a big-city district attorney to rein in marijuana prosecutions. Mears also joins a growing list of prosecutors who are beginning to acknowledge the drug war's costly drain on police and court resources.

The Indianapolis Star reports:

Mears announced Monday that his office will no longer prosecute certain marijuana possession offenses in Marion County. If a person possesses less than one ounce of marijuana, that person will not face formal charges from the prosecutor's office, effective immediately. The policy is aimed at diverting resources to violent crimes, such as murder and sexual assault.

It's a surprising, sweeping change. But Mears wouldn't call it bold.

"I don't think doing the right thing is a bold thing to do," he told IndyStar. "I've been a prosecutor for 12 years, I have the experience of seeing what causes violent crime. And over the course of 12 years, I can tell you, small amounts of marijuana is not our problem."

Top prosecutors in other major cities have issued similar policies. In Baltimore, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced in January that the city would no longer prosecute any cases of marijuana possession.

In Texas, recently elected Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, whose jurisdiction includes San Antonio, announced in May that his office will no longer prosecute possession of trace amounts of narcotics such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines, and that it would start a "cite and release" policy for marijuana possession of under an ounce. John Creuzot, Dallas County's district attorney, announced in April that his office would not prosecute first-time marijuana offenses or trace amounts of drugs under .01 grams.

Last year, shortly after taking office, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner dropped all marijuana prosecutions and ordered his attorneys to decline drug paraphernalia prosecutions.

Of course, not all of these prosecutors' colleagues in law enforcement are happy about these developments.

"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," Curtis Hill, Indiana's attorney general, said about Mears' new policy in a statement to the Star.

Last year, Indianapolis police had a 43 percent clearance rate for murders.