Proposal to decriminalize marijuana goes up in smoke

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Councilwoman Ragen Hatcher

Crusader Staff Report

A proposal that would have reduced the penalties for marijuana possession within city limits failed Tuesday, September 4 when the Gary Common Council voted 4-4 for the measure.

Proposed by Councilwoman Ragen Hatcher (D-At large), the measure would have imposed a minimal fine of $100 for possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana. There would be no permanent charge on one’s criminal record.

LaVetta Sparks-Wade, D-6th, did not vote.  Sparks-Wade said it would take a change in culture to change the issue.

“It would take a change in our culture for things to change on this issue,” she said in the Post-Tribune.

Those who voted against the measure include Council President Ronald Brewer, council members Mary Brown, D-3rd, Linda Barnes Caldwell, D-5th, and Herb Smith, D-At large.

“With our financial troubles, this is not an issue we should tackle,” Brewer said. “We would definitely be sued, and unlike the ‘welcoming city’ ordinance where there were activists willing to defend us (in court), I don’t see anybody lining up to defend us” on marijuana.

Brewer, said he might be able to support the concept of decriminalizing marijuana possession if it was on a non-binding referendum. He said Gary municipal government’s financial problems prevent the city from taking up the issue.

Several council members who voted against the proposal said they were swayed by Gary’s government attorneys, including Common Council attorney Rinzer Williams.

Williams said he believes the Gary ordinance would violate state laws by trying to reduce the state-authorized penalty for possession.

“Indiana has a very restrictive form of Home Rule,” he said, referring to the ordinance law that give certain powers to local governments.

Hatcher said she had hoped to start a marijuana-related movement that would spread throughout the state. Council members who voted in support of her proposal include Michael Protho, D-2nd; Carolyn Rogers, D-4th, and Rebecca Wyatt, D-1st.

Hatcher, however, said because Gary has a large Black population, she believes decriminalizing marijuana possession is something the community would be willing to take on.

“All laws have to be challenged if they’re to be changed,” Hatcher said in the Post-Tribune. She also was quoted as saying that many issues “once considered criminal were changed because someone was willing to stand up to the prevailing mores of the day.”

“We (council members) have the power to make the changes needed,” she said. “We have to be willing to stand up for what’s right.”

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