Hoosier Democrats are applauding President Joe Biden for taking steps Thursday to decriminalize marijuana and pardon Americans previously convicted in federal courts for simple marijuana possession.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate who famously smoked marijuana in a campaign ad filmed in Illinois, said he believes Biden's actions "are the right thing to do."

"Hoosier seniors and veterans are especially on my mind when it comes to the reclassification of cannabis," McDermott said. "Indiana leaders like Sen. Todd Young have abandoned them on this issue and they deserve access to the health benefits marijuana provides, as well as the economic benefits that would come to the Hoosier State."

Young, a Republican, declined to comment on the marijuana policy changes announced by the Democratic president.

Likewise, a spokeswoman for Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said the Republican was on an economic development trip to Switzerland and unable to comment on Biden's actions.

Holcomb previously said he will not consider any measure to legalize marijuana in Indiana, for either medicinal or recreational use, so long as marijuana remains classified as a controlled substance by the federal government.

Biden directed the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and the nation's attorney general to immediately review that classification to more accurately reflect the comparatively minimal risk of adult marijuana use relative to other controlled substances, such as heroin.

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said he hopes if the federal government reschedules marijuana it finally will spur the Republican-controlled General Assembly to legalize it in the Hoosier State.

"Governor Holcomb has repeatedly said that he’s waiting for federal action before our state can act on marijuana legalization," Melton said.

"That federal action is happening now, and I echo President Biden’s call for Governor Holcomb to pardon simple marijuana possession in our state. The vast majority of convictions happen at the state level, and it’s imperative that our Legislature join the federal government in taking action to comprehensively move forward on marijuana reform."

Marijuana use for medicinal purposes already is permitted in 37 states, and 19 of those states also allow adults to use marijuana for recreational purposes, including neighboring Illinois and Michigan.

State Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, chairwoman of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, said it's long past time for Indiana to join that list and stop punishing marijuana users.

"In 2020 alone, there were 4,436 people in Indiana arrested for possession of marijuana. When black Hoosiers are arrested nearly four times as often as white Hoosiers for marijuana possession, it is clear that the 'war on drugs' is less about getting dangerous drugs off the street and more about over-policing black communities and communities of color," Shackleford said.

"Currently, a stint in prison creates barriers for someone seeking employment, housing or education. No one should be denied a quality of life — or freedom from life behind bars — simply because they were caught with marijuana. This is the just and humane thing to do, and I urge Governor Eric Holcomb to follow President Biden's example by pardoning all Hoosiers in local jails and state prisons for marijuana possession," she added.

The General Assembly is due to convene its four-month regular session in early January after all 100 members of the Indiana House and 25 of 50 state senators stand for election by Hoosier voters on Nov. 8.
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