Jim Shella: Survey: The public wants to legalize marijuana

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Jim ShellaI’m not a marijuana guy. Never have been.

I remember being in a car full of classmates in high school when one of them decided to pass a joint. Another one, knowing that I didn’t partake, was polite enough to ask if it was OK. Just open a window, please.

My permission and their consumption were not popular back in the ’70’s, but that is no longer the case. The Hoosier Survey released this week finds that only 10% of adults in Indiana believe marijuana should be illegal. One in 10. Yet marijuana remains against the law here. Never mind that the Marion County prosecutor declines to pursue cases for possession or personal use.

Never mind that President Joe Biden pardoned large numbers of people convicted of possession and attempted possession.

Never mind that every surrounding state has legalized marijuana now that Ohio has approved recreational use and Kentucky has approved medical marijuana.

Michigan and Illinois legalized marijuana years ago, and the dispensaries there sell to a lot of people with Indiana license plates. Maybe somebody can calculate the lost tax money. I can’t. But I can tell you that I like to vacation near Saugatuck, Michigan, and just south of there is a new dispensary surrounded by nothing but woods and a parking lot that is overflowing even on weekday afternoons. It’s big business, and the tax in Illinois is as high as 25%.

The Indiana General Assembly is now in session, and there are bills calling for marijuana legalization. However, a study committee failed last year to produce a recommendation, and previous efforts at legalization have failed.

Never mind that there is plenty of public support based on the findings of the Hoosier Survey. Fifty-four percent of Hoosiers are OK with prescription use of marijuana. Another 32% would also like to see recreational use. That’s 86% in favor of some form of legalization.

So, what is the Hoosier Survey? It is an annual poll conducted by the Bowen Center on Public Affairs at Ball State University to measure attitudes on key issues. It is a scientific online survey of 600 voters that has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%. (In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I am on an advisory commission for the Bowen Center.)

The Hoosier Survey also measured feelings surrounding abortion access, and guess what? Indiana state laws are out of step with public sentiment on that topic, too.

Twenty-eight percent are in favor of making abortion legal in all cases. That’s up 2% from a year ago. Another 31% favor legal abortion in most cases. That’s a 59% majority that favors more access to abortion.

The Legislature will be asked to take up that issue, too, and indications are it will reject any suggestion of greater abortion access.

Yet both marijuana and abortion will then become issues in the fall elections. Heck, abortion was even an issue in last year’s race for mayor of Indianapolis.

Lawmakers always face the dilemma of voting what they believe versus voting what the public wants. The Hoosier Survey is here to let them know just what voters think. More results will be released over the next couple of weeks. Full results can be found at bowencenteronpublicaffairs.org.

In the meantime, when you’re walking through downtown, at a concert or a ballgame, or sitting at a stoplight, and you smell marijuana smoke, understand that most of your neighbors don’t object.•

__________

Shella hosted WFYI’s “Indiana Week in Review” for 25 years and covered Indiana politics for WISH-TV for more than three decades. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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4 thoughts on “Jim Shella: Survey: The public wants to legalize marijuana

  1. Our social policies will continue to drive off the younger, educated work force. We did some quick, non-scientific math of the children of the group of parents we hung around with and 70% left the state. PhD candidates, computer science grads, civil, mechanical, electric and nuclear engineers. If we, as a state, want to see something such as the LEAP District succeed, we need to be more in tune with the current social trends. Clearly, some states have done a marginal job managing legal drugs, but there is certainly enough data to figure out how to make sure we put our best foot forward managing the issue. Poor environmental policy, shaky K-12 education outside of very specific geographic areas also have the potential to hinder attracting and/or retaining a work force which the State of Indiana is banking on. I personally don’t think our social policies mesh with our desired economic goals.

    1. So true. From my own experience, I have three children between the ages of 25 and 28, each have advanced college degrees, and each has moved away from Indiana to more progressive states (CA, CO and IL). I may be biased, but these are three bright young people who will pursue their futures (and pay their taxes) outside of Indiana.

  2. Jim and Sean, you are both spot on. The super majorities in both chambers of the Indiana legislature could care less what the majority of Hoosiers want. In survey after survey, they are told they are out of step. Sadly, very little will likely change until the gerrymandered safe districts are eliminated and we have competitive races where the candidates will have to be more responsive to the will of the people. Allowing ballot initiatives would also be a big help in overcoming the 1800’s thinking of our current legislature.

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