INDIANA: A recent Pew Research Center poll found that for the first time a majority of Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. Indiana Governor Mike Pence is not among them.With the rest of the United States moving toward relaxing the marijuana laws, Indiana seems to be bravely marching into the past. The Hoosier State’s penalties for marijuana are getting tougher after Gov. Mike Pence requested, and was granted stricter laws for low-level cannabis offenders. They have gone so far as proposing that felony charges for possession be extended down to cover one-third of an ounce of marijuana, down from 30 grams or one ounce of marijuana.
As a resident of Indiana and having voted for Pence, I was very surprised that the former Republican congressman who became governor in January, is pushing for an overhaul of Indiana’s criminal sentencing laws. He’s insisted to state lawmakers that the changes include tougher penalties for marijuana possession. Pence recently told reporters that he believed the bill should send a message that the state is tough on drug dealers, AP reports. The governor says he’s interested in reducing prison populations. But he wants do that by reducing crime, not by decreasing penalties on some crimes.
The move comes months after voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize pot under state law. Marijuana remains a banned substance under federal law. But several members of Congress are pushing legislation to legalize pot outright. Or to at least prevent the feds from cracking down on states like Colorado and Washington where votes want it legalized. While Pence’s proposal would lead to more persons convicted of low-level felonies spending time in a work release program rather than prison, the plan also would require those convicted of more serious crimes like possession of a small amount of marijuana to spend more time in prison.
Pence posed these changes to the public as a message that the state is tough on drug dealers, but as some organizations have pointed out, Pence may have been financially inspired to invoke tougher laws as a favor to the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the United States. Though GEO Group is based in Florida, the prison has made contributions to political campaigns across the U.S., mostly to Republican candidates. In the last 10 years, the company has spent more than $3 million on direct campaign contributions, and the number is a low estimate since many state contribution records are either incomplete or missing.
Based on the data that is available, Indiana ranks No. 8 on GEO Group’s list of campaign contributions — spending about $60,000 in state elections. Pence himself received $12,500 from GEO Group for his 2012 gubernatorial campaign, making the prison group one of Pence’s top 30 corporate contributors,When GEO built a 2,416-bed prison in New Castle, Indiana, the state signed a contract guaranteeing the for-profit prison company that 90 percent of the beds would stay filled. Yes, private prisons are a big business, as is the whole legal system, and all this is part of how government hides its growth through mandates and the use of quasi-government groups.
While like many Americans I do not want drugs sold on street corners and a total “free for all” atmosphere to develop this appears to be a strong move in the wrong direction. Recent revelations from Washington concerning the NSA and its massive spying program on the Americans should give us all pause and raise concern as to this troubling trend. It is not only about the curtailment of our freedom but also of the cost of such questionable programs. It may be that more education about the negitive effects of drug use is a better use of our tax money then more prisons.