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Indiana Gov. Will Not Be Issuing Pardons for Cannabis Offenses, Favors State Expungement

After President Joe Biden’s Oct. 6 announcement that he will pardon citizens convicted for marijuana possession, the topic of pardons is still hot. He also asked for relief from state governors. However, Indiana Gov. Holcomb stated recently that he will not pardon 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 also stated that the state offers expungement services. “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.

He did however confirm that cannabis convictions are not permanent. “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.”

Holcomb expressed his views on expungement versus pardons at an Oct. 12 luncheon. “If you are busted for simple possession of marijuana and stay clean for a number of years, five years, then you can pursue expungement. This information is kept secret and will not be disclosed. 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.”

Holcomb began preparing for legislative session that began in January 2022, beginning with December 2021. Holcomb supported medical access, despite the fact that the Indiana Democratic Party had stated at that time that legalization of adult-use cannabis was their top priority. “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.

As of 2014, Indiana has made possession of marijuana a misdemeanor. Indiana currently hasn’t legalized medical or adult cannabis. According to Indiana LawyerBetween 2018-2021, more than 94,000 individuals were arrested for cannabis possession offenses.

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.