Biden Pardons Marijuana Offenses, Calls for Review of Federal Law

Biden Pardons Marijuana Offenses, Calls for Review of Federal Law

Poughkeepsie, NY – October 6, 2022: President Joe Biden Jr. delivers remarks at IBM facility. (Shutterstock)

By Eugene Daniels and Natalie Fertig, Politico

President Joe Biden on Thursday granted a pardon to all people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law, in what amounts to the most extensive White House action taken to date on U.S. drug policy.

The president also urged governors to take similar action for state offenses of civil possession of marijuana. In addition, he called on the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to “expeditiously” review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I narcotic, meaning it’s deemed to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. Heroin and LSD are other Schedule I drugs.

“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. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

The president added that regulations that limit the trafficking, marketing and sales to minors shouldn’t change but that states should follow the administration’s lead because the vast majority of people incarcerated for marijuana possession in the U.S. are convicted under state or local laws.

“The President has been clear that marijuana laws are not working,” said a senior administration official. “The president has been considering his options and he is now taking executive action.”

The move, pushed for by advocates for months, brings marijuana policy to the fore just weeks before the midterm elections, underscoring just how much the politics of the issue have changed in a short period of time. Polling consistently shows that roughly two-thirds of Americans support marijuana legalization. But despite the popularity of legalization, fewer than one in five 2022 primary candidates mentioned cannabis reform on their website or on social media, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.

The practical impact, at least immediately, may be limited. Most people in federal prison for cannabis offenses are not in prison for minor, nonviolent offenses — so the number of individuals affected by this order will be in the thousands, according to the White House.

The move, nevertheless, is remarkable for Biden, a 79-year-old president who had written some of the tough-on-crime drug laws that advocates note led to current incarceration rates. Biden was the only Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 who did not support federal descheduling, which would essentially make marijuana legal at the federal level. The administration had also said Biden wants to reschedule cannabis to a Schedule II drug — which would make it easier to study — legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize minor possession. All of these positions legally conflicted with each other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.