News From Terre Haute, Indiana

News Columns

November 5, 2012

State of the Statehouse: Less penalty for pot finds support

How far idea will get in legislature still debatable

INDIANAPOLIS — The much anticipated Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll released last week was worth the wait, with its newsworthy revelation that the U.S. Senate race wasn’t shaping up the way it was anticipated.

The independent, nonpartisan poll — conducted by two of the best in the profession: Democrat Fred Yang and Republican Christine Matthews — showed Democrat Joe Donnelly surging ahead of his Republican opponent, Richard Mourdock.

In a “red” state like Indiana and in a race that’s attracted millions of dollars from outside groups (making it the most expensive Senate race in Indiana history), that’s big news.

But so too is something else that the pollsters found: significant support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Howey/DePauw pollsters asked the question because it’s an issue state legislators are likely to face in the next session.

Earlier this year, Republican state Sen. Brent Steele, the rock-ribbed law-and-order chairman of the Senate’s Corrections, Criminal & Civil Matters Committee, came out in support of the idea.

Steele is one of the most conservative and influential lawmakers in Indiana. He’s also the likely author of a Senate bill that will overhaul Indiana’s criminal code to make penalties for drug crimes more proportional.

In an interview I had with Steele in September, he said he plans to include language in that bill that would make it an infraction, rather than a crime, to possess a small amount (10 grams or less) of marijuana.

Steele believes the state’s marijuana possession laws, which dictate that marijuana possession is a felony unless it’s a first-time offense and the amount is less than 1 ounce, are both too harsh for the offender and too costly for the criminal justice system. He likened the current marijuana possession law to “smashing an ant with a sledgehammer.”

That’s the kind of language long used by pot-smoking liberals and libertarians, not stalwart Republicans like Steele. But as Brian Howey pointed out in his Howey Politics Indiana column that broke the pot-polling-question news, the marijuana conversation is shifting.

Steele is echoing the concerns of other conservatives who’ve questioned the fairness, effectiveness and cost of harsh marijuana laws. Among them: former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Christian Broadcasting Station televangelist Pat Robertson.

After I wrote the story about Steele’s proposal, I was told by some other Republican state lawmakers that there was no way they’d vote to lessen the penalties for pot possession. They don’t want it to come back and bite them in the next election when they’d surely be accused by opponents as being “soft on crime.”

It’s an accusation that will surely be flung, but the Howey/DePauw poll results suggest it may not stick.

By a 54 percent to 37 percent margin, poll respondents supported decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. The breakdown showed 37 percent who strongly favor and 17 percent who favor, compared to 27 percent who strongly oppose and 10 percent who oppose. Another 10 percent said they didn’t know.

Here’s the question that Steele posed to me, back in September, when he first publicly floated the idea: “We have to ask ourselves as a society, do we really want to be locking people up for having a couple of joints in their pocket?” Steele said. “Is that how we want to be spending our criminal justice resources?”

Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
News Columns
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Raw: Erupting Volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Raw: Cattle Truck Overturns in Texas U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis Cubs Superfans Celebrate Wrigley's 100th Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit New Pictures of Ship That Sank in 1888 Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Air Force: $4.2B Saved From Grounding A-10s US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt UConn Wins NCAA Men's Basketball Champsionship
NDN Video
BASE Jumpers Set World Record Raw: Obama Plays Soccer With Japanese Robot Screaming 2-year-old gets psyched at Penguins game Beyonce on Her Biggest Influence Michael Strahan's First Day on "GMA" Clerk catches on fire after man throws Molotov Cocktail into Brooklyn store Amazon's Deal With HBO Leapfrogs Streaming Rivals Stephen Colbert Tells David Letterman His Plan for 'Late Show' Georgetown police officer filmed tripping students Viral: It's Not Pitbull - It's Amy Poehler! Recycling Highlights for Earth Day Lupita Nyong'o Named People's 'Most Beautiful' Peeps Launched into Outer Space NYPD's Twitter Request For Photos Backfires New HBO Go Commercials Capture Awkward Family TV Watching Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India Rise of the Milkbots Jenna Dewan-Tatum Strips Down TRENDING: Brian Williams Raps 'Gin and Juice' on ‘Tonight Show’ Middle School heroes rescue students from burning bus
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity