Republican legislators agitated with an Indianapolis prosecutor's refusal to press charges for possessing small amounts of marijuana are seeking to empower the state attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to take over such cases.

An Indiana Senate committee endorsed a bill Tuesday on a 6-3 vote that would let the attorney general’s office step in if a county prosecutor announced a policy of not enforcing a law or was found to have “categorically elected” to not do so.

The proposal comes after Democratic Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears announced in September that his office wouldn’t pursue charges against adults for possessing about 1 ounce or less of marijuana, saying the office would focus on prosecuting violent crimes. Since then, officials in northwestern Indiana’s Lake County started considering whether to give sheriff's deputies the discretion to write a $50 to $250 ticket for small levels of marijuana, instead of taking someone to jail.

Republican Sen. Michael Young, of Indianapolis, said his proposal wasn’t just about Mears’ action and pointed to decisions by prosecutors in Boston and San Francisco to not stop pressing charges in cases such as trespassing, disorderly conduct or prostitution.

“It’s because of the social justice prosecution phenomena that’s going on throughout the country,” Young said. “I wanted to try to head it off in Indiana.”

Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill and most GOP legislators are firmly against marijuana legalization as has happened in Michigan and Illinois. Parvonay Stover, the attorney general's government affairs director, told the committee the office believed prosecutors should make charging decisions on a case-by-case basis and respect the Legislature’s decisions on making something a crime.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council argued the bill wrongly usurped the discretion that county prosecutors must have about how to use their staff and budgets on which cases to pursue.

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