Biden Issues Federal Pardon for Weed Possession

  • In Politics
  • 2022-10-06 19:28:24Z
  • By The Daily Beast
Drew Angerer/Getty
Drew Angerer/Getty  

Every American with a past conviction for violating federal marijuana possession laws will be pardoned, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday, part of an enormous reversal in national drug policy that will have far-reaching ramifications for criminal justice and public health.

Biden's executive actions also direct the Departments of Justice and of Health and Human Services to begin the process of potentially changing the drug classification of marijuana-which is currently scheduled on the same level as heroin. The move would potentially allow for marijuana to be given the green light for medical use nationally, as well as be used in studies for potential applications ranging from cancer treatment to mental health.

"No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Today, I'm taking steps to end our failed approach," Biden said, before announcing the pardon of all federal sentences for marijuana possession. "There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden."

Additionally, Biden called on the nation's governors to issue similar pardons for state-level marijuana possession convictions. Roughly 6,500 people have been convicted for federal marijuana possession offenses, but state-level convictions number in the millions.

"I'm calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses," Biden said. "Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either."

Dems Knock White House for 'Out of Touch' Stance on Weed

The actions amount to a massive reversal in policy for Biden, who has long refused to end the federal war on cannabis, despite promises on the campaign trail to end prison time for federal possession convictions. During the presidential campaign, Biden broke with some of his more liberal rivals on the issue, saying that he needed to know "a lot more about the science" before agreeing to marijuana reform.

"There's not nearly enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug," Biden said in 2019. "It's a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally."

Biden's personal discomfort with relaxing marijuana laws has even extended within his own administration, with dozens of administration staffers sacked or sidelined over past marijuana use in the early days of his presidency, although later policies have relaxed some federal restrictions.

In May of last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration approved the growth of cannabis for medical research, and federal convictions for marijuana possession have slowed from the Trump administration, although the issue is not as partisan as it once was: On his final day in office, former President Donald Trump issued clemency for a dozen people with marijuana-related convictions, some of whom were serving sentences under drug laws passed by Biden in 1994. Vice President Kamala Harris, too, has been seen as a potential ally within the administration on the issue.

The actions were greeted as "long overdue" by Erik Altieri, executive director of the cannabis legalization group NORML.

"We are pleased that today President Biden is following through on this pledge and that he is also encouraging governors to take similar steps to ensure that the tens of millions of Americans with state-level convictions for past marijuana crimes can finally move forward with their lives," Altieri said. "Since 1965, nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related violations-for activities that the majority of voters no longer believe ought to be a crime."

Biden's announcement did not include a push for full-scale legalization of marijuana possession and cultivation, as some Democrats have called for. Biden cited the need for "important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales" to remain in place as the reason for continued cannabis regulation, but acknowledged that "too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana."

"It's time that we right these wrongs," Biden said.

On the heels of Biden's announcement, a Department of Justice spokesperson announced that the department would "expeditiously" implement the order, "restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted."

The proclamation announcing the pardon stipulates that the pardon is exclusively retroactive, and applies only to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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