By Maureen Hayden CNHI Statehouse Bureau
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Legislators may balk at the idea of easing the penalties for marijuana, but a new poll shows a majority of Hoosiers support legalizing the drug and taxing it like alcohol and tobacco.
The same poll finds that a strong majority of Hoosiers oppose amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions.
The political analysts who conducted the poll say the results show traditionally conservative Hoosiers are changing their minds on hot-button issues, in part because of what they see happening in the rest of the nation.“There is a kind of contagion effect,” said Joe Losco of Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs. “As certain sections of the country are willing to make changes, others become more open to do the same.”The Bowen Center’s annual poll found about 53 percent of those surveyed support legalizing marijuana, while 78 percent said they were ready to see marijuana taxed like cigarettes and alcohol.
The Hoosier Survey also found residents remain split on whether to allow same-sex couples to marry. Forty-eight percent support it, up from 45 percent a year ago. But when asked if the current law banning same-sex marriage should be locked into the constitution, only 38 percent supported the idea.
The Bowen Center’s survey also found that Indiana residents want the General Assembly to focus on job creation when it convenes in January. Just more than 83 percent identified jobs as the most critical issue for legislators, followed by improvement to schools (73 percent) and affordable health care (59 percent).
Nearly 44 percent of Indiana residents said environmental protection should also be a top priority for legislators. That’s up from about 30 percent when the question was asked three years ago, when Indiana was still in the throes of a recession.“When you’re worried about putting food on the table, you’re not as concerned about clean drinking water,” said Ray Scheele, co-director of the Bowen Center.
Also changing are opinions on marijuana and same-sex marriage. In 2012, after some conservative legislators floated the idea of decriminalizing marijuana — treating it like a traffic offense — 53 percent of people surveyed said they supported the idea, a number roughly unchanged this year. But three-quarters of those surveyed said they want to see marijuana taxed — even though prospects of pot legislation in the next session seem dim.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence has made clear his position: Last year, he warned legislators he would oppose efforts to significantly reduce penalties for marijuana crimes, calling it a “gateway” to more dangerous drugs.
The General Assembly will be taking on the issue of same-sex marriage ban amendment, though. On Thursday, Pence voiced support for the proposed amendment that, if passed by the Legislature, will send the issue to voters in November.
While the minority Democrat leaders in the Statehouse called again on Thursday for the amendment to be scuttled, the majority Republican leaders re-affirmed their commitment to putting the measure to a vote.
Losco noted that residents seem to make a distinction between the state law that prohibits same-sex marriage and enshrining the ban in the state constitution. “They see the latter as a pretty blunt instrument.”As recent similar polls in Indiana have showed, the Hoosier Survey found significant differences on the issue based on age and politics. Among residents ages 18 to 24, 72 percent supported legalizing same-sex marriage. Almost 80 percent of Democrats supported it, while fewer than 30 percent of Republicans did.
Results of the Hoosier Survey were released at the annual Bingham Greenebaum Doll legislative preview conference in Indianapolis. The 2013 survey was conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International in mid-October. PSRAI sampled the opinions of 605 adults living in Indiana.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.