Marijuana pardons not coming to Indiana, Holcomb says

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Eric Holcomb

U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, granted full and unconditional pardons to all Americans with federal convictions of simple marijuana possession in an executive action this month, but don’t expect Indiana to follow suit.

“The President should work with Congress, not around [it], 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,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a written statement to the Capital Chronicle. “Until these federal law changes occur, I can’t in good conscience consider issuing blanket pardons for all such offenders.”

It’s unclear, for now, the number of people even convicted of simple marijuana possession under Indiana law. State lawmakers made it a misdemeanor in 2014.

Biden’s action didn’t free a single person from federal incarceration; no one is in federal prison only for simple—i.e. a personal amount rather than a dealing quantity—marijuana possession.

But he overturned thousands of convictions going back decades: at least 6,500 convictions between 1992 and 2021, according to The New York Times. The pardon also applies to thousands more people convicted after marijuana possession became a federal crime in the 1970s, and those convicted under District of Columbia law.

“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement Oct. 6. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities.”

Biden also noted that though “white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates,” non-white people are disproportionately arrested, prosecuted and convicted for marijuana possession.

And he called on state governors to do the same for state convictions, saying, “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”

Holcomb agreed with some of Biden’s premise, but not the execution.

“I do agree that many of these offenses should not serve as a life sentence after an individual has served their time,” he said.

But he highlighted Indiana’s use of expungements over pardons, saying, “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. … Expunged convictions cannot be disclosed to employers, to those who grant licenses, or when seeking housing.”

The statistics

In just four years, 2018-2021, more than 94,000 people were charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, according to Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council data.

Like on the federal level, however, a pardon wouldn’t result in many releases from incarceration.

There was just one person in Indianapolis’ Adult Detention Center solely for simple marijuana possession as of Thursday, according to Marion County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mitch Gore. About 320 people were incarcerated at the time for simple marijuana possession in addition to other charges, he wrote in an email.

Allen County Sheriff Department Capt. Steve Stone said law enforcement had arrested about 470 people on charges including simple possession of marijuana or other drugs. But, he said, the department can’t differentiate the number of people facing solely marijuana possession charges from those charged with possessing other drugs or who face multiple charges.

“It would be a very, very low number,” said Stone, who previously worked in anti-narcotics.

Stone said that, in his experience, “We wouldn’t even arrest you because you’d be out before we were even done doing the paperwork.”

But if there were also other, more serious charges, prosecutors often used the simple marijuana possession charge as a bargaining chip, he said.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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14 thoughts on “Marijuana pardons not coming to Indiana, Holcomb says

  1. I know many people that have moved out or don’t want to move to Indiana because of these backwards laws and goofy worthless nerds you fools voted in!! Legalize immediately!!!!!!!!!! Or get!!!!! Indiana is a High State!!! Regardless but losing Money because of Clowns!!!!!

    1. So, your friends don’t want to come to Indiana because they can’t fire up a fatty and play some Bob Marley? Makes sense to me. LOL!

      Don’t get me wrong I will imbibe a little myself, but I certainly don’t let it dictate important issues in my life.

  2. dumb. colossal waste of money – jail costs and loss of tax revenue. probably would help with the fentanyl epidemic too.
    could use the jail space for real criminals.

  3. What I find amusing is this is the response when the actions at the Federal level do not fit their agenda, however, when issues DO fit their agenda….say….abortion….well then the states MUST make the rules. Holcomb is a total joke…..

  4. Let the potheads move to a more liberal state. That way everyone would be happy. We do not need legalization of more drugs. Biden’s bill is also a non-factor and is just trying to drum up votes. “Millions of people being held hostage” is a bit of an exaggeration or maybe that comment was made by a stoner who is out of touch with reality.

    1. This is a when issue, not an if issue. Nothing to do with potheads. There is a significant white collar portion of the population that responsibly uses (yes, many people even in Indiana) and you would probably never guess who they are. We now have anecdotal evidence from the states that did non-criminalize that society didn’t fall apart.

      The fact is that we already have an overcrowded jail system that has huge costs associated with it. We should be focused on those who commit violent or large scale crime, not people who got caught on a possession charge. We need to pick our battles, and by potentially taking away parents from families we are creating more children who will be more prone to committing crimes far worse.

      This is where I grow weary of all the people who wave “freedom” in my face all day long, cover themselves and their vehicles in the flag. Act like tough guys with “dont tread on me” stickers on their cars. If we are going to be free, let everyone do what they want as long as it is not infringing on others. You want guns, but not MJ, you want freedom of religion, but also abortion bans.

      Admit it, what you really want is the freedom to live in your version of a perfect world. Not really freedom.

  5. Ryan S. is completely correct! Freedom as long as it fits our agenda. Ever wonder why Holcomb and the rest of the Republicans in the statehouse WON’T allow the citizens of Indiana to vote on things like abortion and weed legalization? Perhaps they are afraid of what the majority of Hoosiers truly want. Not saying expanding abortion rights or decriminalizing weed would pass, but the ability to actually vote and truly have our voices heard would be nice for a change.

  6. All great comments here on this subject. The fact of the matter is with that “We the People” have not given the Federal Government the the responsibility to rein over these issues. The US Constitution is very clear in the responsibilities of the Federal Government an the 10th amendment is very clear what is to happen with all other issues.

    If “We the People” want to take back control from the Centralized Establishment Government in DC, we need to elect Governors who understand the separation of power and not relinquish States rights.

  7. I was recently driving past the first Illinois exit on I-74 and noticed a large pot dispensary building 100 yards from the highway. There was a line circling the building with several hundred people, outside in the 30° weather, waiting to go in to buy their recreational marijuana. I bet 3/4 of them were from Indianapolis.