Pardons are still a hot topic after President Joe Biden announced on Oct. 6 that he would be pardoning citizens who have federal convictions for cannabis, and asked that state governors do the same to provide relief for people in their regions. However, Indiana Gov. Holcomb recently stated that he would not be pardoning simple cannabis convictions.
“The president should work with Congress, not around them, to discuss changes to the law federally, especially if he is requesting governors to overturn the work local prosecutors have done by simply enforcing the law,” Holcomb said, according to ABC57. “Until these federal law changes occur, I can’t in good conscience consider issuing blanket pardons for all such offenders.”
Holcomb added that his state already offers expungement programs. “What Indiana has done, is act proactively, not reactively, by creating an opportunity for those who have maintained a clean record since a conviction of simple marijuana possession and a number of lower-level offenses, to apply for—and receive—an expungement which seals their record,” Holcomb said.
However he did confirm that many people who currently hold cannabis convictions on their record deserve to have an opportunity to have it removed. “I do agree that many of these offenses should not serve as a life sentence after an individual has served their time,” Holcomb added. “Expunged convictions cannot be disclosed to employers, to those who grant licenses, or when seeking housing.”
At a luncheon on Oct. 12, Holcomb shared his opinions on favoring expungement over pardons. “If you are busted for simple possession of marijuana and stay clean for a number of years, five years, then you can pursue expungement. That is never disclosed and that will never be in the way. If you do the crime and pay the time, then you can move on,” Holcomb said, adding that he does not believe cannabis should be in the same Schedule category as substances such as heroin or morphine. “But that’s Congress’s job.”
In December 2021, Holcomb began ramping up for the legislative session which began in January 2022. Although at the time, the Indiana Democratic Party stated that adult-use cannabis legalization was a top priority, Holcomb explained his support for medical access instead. “The law that needs to change is the federal law,” said Holcomb in December 2021.
News outlet WSBT asked Indiana legislators about Biden’s recent pardons, and many were supportive, but leaned toward federal descheduling. “I think this does reveal that legalization is inevitable in our future and whether or not Indiana wants to set that up at the state level or wait for the federal government to do that,” said Rep. Maureen Bauer. “So, for us, it’s still [a] schedule one drug. And I don’t see the state of Indiana changing the legalization of the drug until federally it’s descheduled,” added Sen. Mike Bohacek.
Possession of cannabis is a misdemeanor in Indiana, as of 2014. Currently, the state of Indiana has not legalized adult-use or medical cannabis. According to The Indiana Lawyer, over 94,000 people were charged with a cannabis possession misdemeanor between 2018-2021.
A pardon isn’t enough to release people from prison, partially because many people’s sentences are more complicated. According to Marion County Sheriff’s Office Captain Mitch Gore as of Oct. 13, the Indianapolis Adult Detention Center only had one inmate who was convicted for cannabis possession, while 320 others were convicted both because of possession as well as other non-cannabis related charges.
Allen County Sheriff’s Office Captain Steve Stone also confirmed that not very many people could be released immediately. “It would be a very, very low number. We wouldn’t even arrest you because you’d be out before we were even done doing the paperwork,” Stone said.