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Biden Pardons Marijuana Offenses

The President pardoned all those convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law.



On October 6th, President Joe Biden granted pardons to all individuals currently serving federal prison sentences for simple marijuana possession convictions, according to politico.com. The President also strongly encouraged governors to follow his lead and take similar action against state offenses of civil possession of cannabis.


The pardons will only apply to those convicted on federal charges for simple possession going back to the 1970s when it became a crime. A complete data set is not currently available, but officials estimate that 6,500 people were convicted of possession between 1992 and 2021. People sentenced under District of Columbia laws will also be granted clemency. That number will also be in the thousands.


In a statement, the President shared, "Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. 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."


"Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. 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."

- U.S. President Joe Biden


Biden also asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to "expeditiously" review marijuana scheduling under federal law. It is currently a Schedule I narcotic, which means it allegedly has no medical use and a high potential for abuse.


According to Administration officials, Biden believes marijuana should be rescheduled to a Schedule II drug, making it easier to study. He is also advocating for medical marijuana to be legalized at the federal level and to decriminalize all minor possession offenses.


The President's action on this issue represents a fundamental shift in America's policies concerning marijuana. And with less than a month before the midterm elections, it could provide a powerful surge of Democratic voter interest and action come this November.


To many experts, the move is nothing short of remarkable for Biden, considering he helped author some of America's strictest drug laws, which ostensibly led to the current level of incarceration. Biden was also the only Democratic presidential candidate who did not support federal descheduling during the 2020 campaign, a process that would essentially make marijuana legal at the federal level.


However, despite this significant change in philosophy on the part of the Administration, many advocates still feel the President and Congress should continue to push toward a full federal descheduling of a plant currently legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia for medical use and 19 states for recreational adult use.


As a spokesperson for the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for the legalization of all drugs, shares, "Keeping marijuana on the federal drug schedule will mean people will continue to face criminal charges for marijuana. It also means that research will continue to be inhibited, and state-level markets will be at odds with federal law."


"Keeping marijuana on the federal drug schedule will mean people will continue to face criminal charges for marijuana. It also means that research will continue to be inhibited, and state-level markets will be at odds with federal law."

- Drug Policy Alliance


Even many Biden allies, though encouraged by the actions taken on Thursday, want to see bolder steps on the part of the President.


Senator Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon released a statement saying, "A review by HHS of how cannabis is scheduled is welcome, but those of us who have been advocating for reform already know that a comprehensive federal solution is needed."


"A review by HHS of how cannabis is scheduled is welcome, but those of us who have been advocating for reform already know that a comprehensive federal solution is needed."

- U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)


The question of full federal legalization of marijuana has become a central issue for many Americans headed to the polls this upcoming election. Poll after poll consistently indicates that a majority of Americans support marijuana legalization.


And with another five states - Missouri, Arkansas, North and South Dakota, and Maryland - voting on legalizing recreational cannabis, it is clear that Americans are ready to settle the matter of nationwide legalization once and for all.


The President has taken decisive action on his part, and it is now up to the remaining states, where cannabis is still illegal, and Congress to fulfill the ever-growing mandate of a nation clearly ready to go totally "green" from sea to shining sea.



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