“In the Oct. 28-30 poll of 800 likely voters, Howey/DePauw asked: 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? If (favor/oppose) Do you feel strongly or not so strongly about this?

By a 54 to 37% margin, poll respondents agreed with the decriminalization. The break down included 37% who strongly favor and 17% who favor, compared to 27% who strongly oppose and 10% who oppose. Another 10% said they didn’t know. It is the first independent survey to ask about marijuana laws in Indiana.

In September, Steele, the Bedford Republican who chairs the Senate Corrections, Criminal & Civil Matters Committee, told CHNI’s Maureen Hayden, “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? Is that how we want to be spending our criminal justice resources?”

At least 14 states have rolled back criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and 17 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of “medical marijuana” as pain treatment, including Michigan. Chicago this past summer decriminalized small possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Steele is planning legislation that would make possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil infraction that carries the penalty of a fine. Ten grams is equal to about 10 single-serving sugar packets or two joints. Steele doesn’t support legalizing marijuana. He doesn’t want to do away with laws, for example, that carry tough penalties for people who drive under the influence of marijuana. And he’s convinced there are other laws that will catch people who are drug abusers.

“We’re talking about simple possession. Some kid caught with a couple of joints in his pocket,” Steele said. “Mere possession has nothing to do with use or abuse.” Steele added, “We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections – 300 percent more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons. The criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”

In the Fort Wayne gubernatorial debate a week ago, the candidates were asked about medical marijuana. Republican Mike Pence explained, “I would not support the decriminalization of marijuana. I’ve seen too many people become involved with marijuana and get sidetracked. We need to get more serious about confronting the scourge of drugs.” He called marijuana a “gateway drug.”