INDIANAPOLIS - The head of the Indiana State Police is telling lawmakers he would legalize and tax marijuana if it were up to him.
State police Superintendent Paul Whitesell told members of the State Budget Committee on Tuesday that he had followed the issue during 40 years in law enforcement and believed "it is here, it's going to stay."
He cited votes in Colorado and Washington allowing adults to have small amounts of marijuana as evidence of a national shift on the issue.
His answer came in response to a question from Democratic Rep. Sheila Klinker about pending proposals to decriminalize small amounts of the drug.
Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian has proposed decriminalizing marijuana and Republican Sen. Brent Steele said he would consider a similar measure during the upcoming legislative session.
Robin Alexander, who is on Indiana's NORML board that works to reform marijuana laws, said Whitesell's comments to the state budget committee lend credibility to the groups cause.
"He's right, he's absolutely right, and he's been on the force long enough to know what's real, you know," Alexander said. "The penalties are much too severe, and they have been for a very long time. I mean, it's well understood that having a certain amount of marijuana will put you away for longer than killing your whole family. It's just a fact of life the war on drugs has failed."
Indiana NORML estimates the state spends about $150 million a year fighting pot consumption, and estimates legalizing it would bring in at least $50 million.
"As a practicing attorney, I've seen a significant amount of state dollars spent on prosecuting and incarcerating individuals caught with small amounts of marijuana," Steele said. "We have to ask ourselves if this is the best use of our criminal justice resources."
A spokesman for Indiana State Police released a statement stressing that Whitesell's comments were strictly philosophical and did not reflect support for legalization of the drug.
"His comments were of a philosophical perspective and not the substance of a rendered official opinion," the statement read. "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."
Governor-elect Mike Pence's office also issued a statement on the matter.
"Gov.-elect Pence opposes the decriminalization of marijuana, and he will base his decisions about the leadership of his administration on a broad range of qualifications rather than a stance on one issue," said Christy Denault, Pence's communications director.