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January 5, 2014

HOWEY: Don’t hold your breath for Indiana pot law change

The legal sale of recreational marijuana began Wednesday in Colorado and will be followed later this year by the state of Washington, but Hoosiers shouldn’t hold their breath about that happening any time soon in Indiana.

Even though recent polling shows rapidly evolving views from a majority of Hoosiers, the political establishment in Indiana appears to be firmly moored to the Drug War era that has seen more than 160,000 residents charged with various criminal and misdemeanor violations over the past decade.

In the past, voluminous public support on issues such as a state lottery and gaming occurred well before the Indiana General Assembly allowed a referendum on the lottery in 1988 (which passed with a landslide 62 percent), and the passage of riverboat casino laws in 1993. It took the defeat of Republican House Speaker J. Roberts Daily in 1986 to pave the way for the 1988 referendum. Daily had been a vociferous opponent of any gaming expansion.

During a 2012 gubernatorial debate in Zionsville, Gov. Mike Pence said he opposed any marijuana law reforms and viewed marijuana as a “gateway” drug. His Democrat opponent John Gregg generally agreed, but added that medical marijuana would be worth studying (and then there was Libertarian Rupert Boneham, who observed, “It’s a plant.”)

But public opinion in Indiana is shifting. In the October 2012 Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll, for the first time in decades the marijuana question – in this case decriminalization – was tested. The question was, “Currently it is a misdemeanor crime in Indiana to possess a small amount of marijuana. The legislature may consider making it an infraction rather than a crime to possess a small amount of marijuana. Do you favor or oppose making possession of a small amount of marijuana an infraction rather than a crime?”

The response was 54 percent favored decriminalization and 38 percent opposed. When the April 2013 Howey Politics Indiana Poll asked the same question, 56 percent favored and 37 percent opposed.

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