MERRILLVILLE –  It has been 51 years since Richard G. Hatcher was elected mayor of Gary. He, along with Carl Stokes of Cleveland, will always be remembered as the first two black mayors of a major U.S. city. Since his election, the city has fallen on hard times.

The population has plummeted and the crime rate has soared. Unemployment is high and young black men have a difficult time finding their way.

Ragen Hatcher, the former mayor’s daughter, may be about to establish her own legacy. At the Gary City Council meeting a week ago, Ragen Hatcher announced that she will seek to decriminalize marijuana within the city limits.

As a former prosecutor in Gary City Court, Ragen Hatcher has seen what marijuana has done to young black men. She said that many of the cases she handled involved possession of marijuana. “That gave 18-, 19-, 21-year-olds their first criminal conviction, very young. And that follows you throughout your life,” Ragen Hatcher said. “We know it’s not legal in Indiana. But we’re saying if somebody is caught with marijuana, then instead of going through the one- to two-hour process of arresting that person, going through evidence and testing, that person would get a ticket, a city ordinance violation,” she said.

Among the benefits, she said, are fewer people tied to the criminal justice system for minor infractions and reductions in the case load of the police department.

According to a draft ordinance, the fine would be $100 if the person is in possession of 30 grams or less.

Councilman at-large Herb Smith has said he will co-sponsor Hatcher’s proposal.

It would be difficult to imagine the City Council rejecting such a proposal. There are too many crime problems for Gary police to worry about dealing with marijuana possession.

Fewer young black men would have criminal records and thus be eligible for hiring by the city’s police and fire departments. Many young black people who apply for such jobs are rejected because of criminal records.

With the resources saved not having to deal with minor marijuana possession cases, police officers would have more time to deal with serious crime. It also is difficult to imagine the council rejecting the proposal since marijuana has been legalized in several states.

Hatcher said she would like to make a lasting impact on the city before leaving the council at the end of the year.

She will be sworn in as 3rd District state representative at the end of the year, replacing Rep. Charlie Brown. 

Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.