PLYMOUTH — While one Indiana law enforcement officer went on record to support the legalization of marijuana in the Hoosier state, Marshall County law enforcement officers aren’t so sure.
Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell told members of the State Budget Committee on Tuesday that he believes that “...it (marijuana usage) is here, it’s going to stay...If it were up to me I do believe I would legalize it and tax it.”
Whitesell cited laws passed in Colorado and Washington that allow adults to have small amounts of marijuana as evidence of a national shift on the issue. After the State Police Chief’s comments a spokesman for the Indiana State Police backtracked from Whitesell’s statement.
Indiana State Police Capt. Dave Bursten said that Whitesell had “rendered a philosophical opinion”.
“The making of such laws are not the purview of the State Police and he was not asked for an opinion in that context,” Bursten wrote in a statement. “Although the Superintendent personally understands the theoretical argument for taxation and legalization, as a police officer with over 40 years of experience he does not support the legalization of marijuana.”
That shift in opinion on marijuana and its use may be evident in the general public but it is not evidenced in the minds of local law enforcement officials.
“It should not be legalized,” said Marshall County Sheriff Tom Chamberlin. “We have enough problems to deal with already.”
Bourbon Police Chief Bill Martin has a similar point of view.
“I’m not in agreement with that (Whitesell’s) statement,” he said. “It just opens up a whole bunch of other problems.”
Bremen Police Chief Matt Hassel went a step further.
“I think if you’d take a look at it you’d find that most people in the county jail right now are there for alcohol related offenses,” he said. “The question you have to ask is if you legalize marijuana are you going to fill the jail up with another whole group of people because of what they do under the influence of marijuana? It’s not the actual use of it, it’s what you do when you use it.”
Hassel encouraged a cautious approach to any step towards legalization.
“In my mind a lot more research has to be done before we start making a decision on anything,” he said. “I’ve not seen any research that proves there is any real medical use for marijuana. To my understanding studies say it is 15 times more harmful to the lungs than tobacco and with the new anti-smoking legislation that takes effect after Jan. 1 we are obviously doing all we can to get people to stop smoking tobacco.”
Chamberlin had another issue of concern.
“Right now one of the stipulations of employment in many cases is being able to pass a drug test,” said Chamberlin. “As law enforcement officers we are not allowed to have marijuana in our system. It’s an illegal substance. But if we legalize it marijuana stays in your system for up to 30 days. Maybe you didn’t smoke today or the day before but it’s in your system that long, are you still under the influence? Alcohol we can regulate on duty hours. If we would have an officer involved shooting would the officer be ruled impaired if he had marijuana in his system? If we pick up a driver is he legally intoxicated even if he hadn’t smoked that day? It’s something you have to ask.”
While some feel that Whitesell’s argument regarding revenue from taxing marijuana has value, that argument doesn’t hold much weight with local police.
“I worry about where we stop,” said Chamberlin. “I can walk out into the jail right now and find 50 people who would love to see their drug of choice legalized. There will always be another drug to legalize and tax. Where do you draw the line?”
“We tax tobacco right now and spend a lot of time and money trying to get people to stop smoking,” said Hassel. “Are we saying one smoke is okay and another isn’t?”
While the opinions on both sides will continue, Martin likely summed up the bottom line.
“Really none of that is my department,” he said. “I enforce the law and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”