Whitesell said earlier this week at a State Budget Committee hearing, "My thought is, toward the zenith of my career, it is here, it's going to stay. That's an awful lot of victimization that goes with it.
It doesn't appear officials -- at least in this area -- are ready to share Whitesell's view.
"I'm opposed to it," South Bend interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley said Thursday. "I can't respond to others' opinions, but I think it's just the wrong way to go. I look at it as a gateway drug. Once you start out there, you're going to move on to the more malicious types of drugs."
Mishawaka Police Chief Ken Witkowski agreed, adding that nothing good can come from legalizing marijuana.
"That's a steppingstone to heroin and meth," he said. "We teach that in our DARE (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) classes.
"From there, someone gets hooked on other drugs, and it leads to unemployment, losing your family. I would not be in favor of legalizing it. It just starts the ball rolling."
Whitesell's comments come on the heels of voter-passed measures in Colorado and Washington that allow adults to have small amounts of marijuana. Some sense it as a national shift on the issue, The Associated Press reported.
Other states, such as Michigan and California, have legalized marijuana for medical use.
There already are pending proposals to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in Indiana.
In Indiana, possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor on the first offense and carries a sentence of up to one year. Possession of more than 30 grams -- roughly an ounce -- is a Class D felony that carries a sentence of one to three years in prison.
St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak points out that Indiana Code allows for first-time violators of possession of marijuana laws to plead guilty and ask a judge for a conditional discharge. If that defendant doesn't violate the conditions of the case, charges are dismissed, although community service, fines or drug education classes could be part of the conditional discharge.
Dvorak said most people who are convicted of marijuana crimes rarely end up in prison. He added that it takes a person with up to 51/2 Class D felonies to be brought to prison, and marijuana is rarely bumped up to a felony.
"For the advocates of legalizing marijuana to say that people are going to prison for small quantities, that's not true," he said. "To alleviate a prison overcrowding issue is not true."
Dvorak said his office will continue to enforce the laws until, or unless, they're changed, adding it's up to the state legislators to determine them.
One option, Dvorak said, is to make possession of marijuana an infraction -- such as a speeding ticket -- in which people would get fined up to a certain amount of violations.
Key Republican and Democratic state legislators plan to introduce measures next year that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug. Democratic state Sen. Karen Tallian, of Portage, said recently that she will again introduce a bill that would decriminalize possession of up to 3 ounces -- about 85 grams -- of marijuana. The bill received a Senate hearing this year but was not brought up for a vote. Tallian, however, said attitudes are changing, even among her fellow lawmakers.
"Two or three years ago when I started talking about that, it was, 'You're crazy,' " she said. "Now, it's like, 'I'm all right with that.' I've gotten that from a lot of people. 'I wouldn't put my name on it, but I'll support you.' "
But would legalizing marijuana cause more people to smoke and make it a health issue?
Dr. Thomas Felger, health officer with the St. Joseph County Health Department, said it depends how often people are smoking and how much damage it causes the lungs.
Felger declined to take a stance on whether the drug should be legal or not, but went into detail about the drug's effects on a body.
"Certainly, anything inhaled as smoke has hazards to the lungs," Felger said. "While not in the category of regular smoking, there is potential damage there.
"Very frequent use has been shown to have some consequences on energy and drive and ambition. It changes your alertness, and there's potential dangers there."
"I think it's a bad idea overall," St. Joseph County Sheriff Mike Grzegorek said. "It impairs your senses and ability to react. You're still going to have that problem if you legalize it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Staff writer Tom Moor: