President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that he is pardoning thousands of Americans convicted under federal law for “simple marijuana possession.” This move is seen as part of an overall effort to decriminalize the drug at the federal level. In his announcement, he called on governors to do the same for those convicted of similar offenses.
In his announcement, the president argued that “no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” and that as part of his plan, he is “pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple 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,” he continued.
As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.
Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.
— President Biden (@POTUS) October 6, 2022
Biden continued, asking governors to follow suit, because “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.”
The president then pointed out that the federal government classifies weed “at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl,” and that he is instructing the secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to review how the drug is scheduled.
He concluded by noting the racial disparities in how laws against marijuana have been enforced:
Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives – for conduct that is legal in many states. That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs.
A senior administration official told NBC News that more than 6,500 Americans were convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law between 1992 and 2021. It is also worth noting that at this moment, there are no prisoners in federal prison who were convicted solely for simple possession. Most convictions for this offense are done at the state level.
Nevertheless, those with these convictions on their records do face more difficulty when it comes to obtaining housing, employment, and even educational opportunities. “This pardon will help relieve those collateral consequences,” the official said.
This move comes a few months after Democrats in Congress were mulling legislation that would legalize the use of the plant at the federal level. It has been a pet project of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) since 2020. But Democratic lawmakers were unable – or unwilling – to put something together that would pass in both chambers.
Nevertheless, Biden’s move is being widely lauded by folks on both sides of the political divide. However, the Associated Press pointed out that “there’s a big divide in the nation as some police departments still believe the drug leads to more serious crime and ignoring low-level offenses emboldens criminals.”
It is also important to note that decriminalizing or legalizing weed is an endeavor that has bipartisan support. Red states are inching ever closer to passing legislation making it legal.
Of course, this appears to be an effort on the part of Democrats to curry favor with voters before the upcoming congressional elections, which are a little more than a month away. With their prospects looking bleak, they must come up with a way to minimize the damage. Still, this is a positive development, regardless of the party from which it comes. Hopefully, we can see some more movement on legalizing marijuana at the state level as well.