Since President Joe Biden called on governors to pardon simple marijuana possession convictions, many have spoken out – some for and some against the move.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (R) recently said he will not pardon anyone in his state even though Biden pardoned thousands of federal offenders earlier this month.
“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 In a statement to News 8. “Until these federal law changes occur, I can’t in good conscience consider issuing blanket pardons for all such offenders.”
Simple marijuana possession has been considered a misdemeanor in Hoosier State since 2014. Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council data shows that over 94,000 people were charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession between 2018 and 2021.
Still, Holcomb agrees with Biden that criminal records for cannabis possession have created obstacles in terms of employment, housing and educational opportunities.
“I do agree that many of these offenses should not serve as a life sentence after an individual has served their time,” he said, noting that the state has been using expungements rather than pardons.
“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 continued. “Expunged convictions cannot be disclosed to employers, to those who grant licenses, or when seeking housing.”
Indiana’s Legalization Efforts
With legislative action anticipated in the 2023 session, regulators in Indiana agreed earlier this year that more research on the potential health benefits and decriminalization of cannabis is needed.
To that end, last month, the Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavioral Health, and Human Services hosted a discussion on whether the state should consider legalizing medical or recreational marijuana. Lawmakers from both chambers and parties, as well as health officials, joined the meeting, which included roughly four hours of testimony on various aspects of marijuana policy.
While cannabis advocates made a strong case by presenting arguments for cannabis reform, most of the criticism came from the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
In addition, former state Senator Jim Merritt told IN Focus earlier this year that the committee tends to concentrate on the health benefits more than the economy, writes Fox 59.
“The overwhelming feeling in Indiana, as far as I know, is cannabis in a health situation,” Merritt said. “I think the idea of cannabis coming into the state… if we can just legalize and regulate it, I think we would have more of a control over it.”
Still, lawmakers like U.S. Senate candidate Thomas McDermott (D) continue to push for cannabis legalization. On Sunday, he challenged his opponent Senator Todd Young (D), criticizing some of his positions on various matters, such as marijuana legalization.
He called the Indiana law that prohibits marijuana an “ancient policy” retained by Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders, which threatens people who go to other states to legally buy cannabis with jail once they return home. Full Story