President Joe Biden issued a directive today expanding the pool of marijuana offenders eligible for federal pardons.
“I am issuing a Proclamation that will pardon additional offenses of simple possession and use of marijuana under federal and D.C. law,” the President stated. “Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
The President issued a similar pardon proclamation last October, and in March the Justice Department opened an online portal for eligible applicants to apply for pardon certificates. Estimates provided at that time by the US Sentencing Commission suggested that nearly 7,000 Americans with low-level federal marijuana-related convictions would be eligible for relief under the directive.
It is not yet clear how many additional citizens with federal records will be eligible for relief under the President’s latest proclamation.
NORML had called upon the Administration to grant blanket pardon relief to nonviolent marijuana offenders shortly after the President took office.
The President also called upon state officials to take similar steps. “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” he said. “That’s why I continue to urge Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses and applaud those who have since taken action.”
While the President’s pardons apply to those with federal convictions, the overwhelming majority of marijuana-related arrests and convictions occur at the state level. In recent years, lawmakers in two-dozen states have enacted legislation facilitating the expungement of certain state-level cannabis convictions. According to publicly available data compiled by NORML, state and local officials have issued approximately 100,000 marijuana-related pardons and more than 2.3 million marijuana-related expungements since 2018.
“Millions of Americans carry the burden and stigma of a past conviction for behavior that the majority of voters no longer believe should be a crime,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that public officials and the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization.”
Last November, President Biden also used his executive authority to order “the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” In August, Bloomberg news obtained a letter from a “top” Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official recommending that the US Drug Enforcement Administration reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III controlled substance under federal law. The DEA has yet to take any public action on the matter.
NORML criticized the rescheduling recommendation, opining, “Rescheduling marijuana fails to provide states with the explicit legal authority to regulate it within their borders as they see fit, free from federal interference.” Rather, NORML calls for removing from the CSA altogether in a manner similar to alcohol.
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