President Biden recently announced that he would be pardoning all simple marijuana possession offenders saying, in a Twitter thread:
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.
First: I’m 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.
Second: I’m calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses. 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.
Third: We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense. I’m asking @SecBecerra and the Attorney General to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.
I’d also like to note that as federal and state regulations change, we still need important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales of marijuana.
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.
The White House made pretty much the same exact points in a briefing on the subject, with a senior administration official announcing the pardon plan and saying:
Today, the President will announce in a video and statement that he is taking steps to end our failed approach to marijuana.
As he has often said, no one should be in jail for marijuana use or possession alone. It has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that is legal in many states. And while white, Black, and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are disproportionately in jail for it.
Members of Congress have been working on this issue with one significant bill passing the House, but that effort has stalled, and we are almost at the end of this Congress.
So, today, the President is taking executive action to address the country’s failed approach to marijuana. He will announce three steps.
One, the President is pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession. This pardon applies to all persons convicted of simple possession of marijuana under District of Columbia law as well.
There are thousands of people with prior federal convictions for marijuana possession who may be denied housing, employment, or educational opportunities as a result. This pardon will help relieve those collateral consequences.
The President has directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process to issue certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.
Second, the President is urging all governors to do the same with regard to state offenses of simple possession of marijuana. Just as no one should be in federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or a state prison for that reason either.
Third, the President is asking the Secretary of HHS and the Attorney General to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act as the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and it’s even higher than the classification for fentanyl and methamphetamine — the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic.
And the President will make clear today that even as federal and state marijuana law changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales should stay in place.
Adding a bit more specificity as to what particular offenses will be pardoned, that same official said:
The category of charges are for “simple possession” of marijuana, and that is both under federal law and the D.C. code. There is a particular statute.
In terms of the administration of the pardons, the Justice Department will create an administrative process for pardoned individuals to obtain a certificate of pardon so that they will have documentation that they can show to law enforcement employers and others as needed.
However, as that official noted, most simple possession offenses are handled by the states, not the feds, so we’ll see how effective Biden’s policy really is as the states decide whether to follow his lead or keep prosecuting weed.
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