Despite being decriminalized or even legalized in several states over the years, marijuana continues to be classified as a “dangerous” controlled substance at the federal level for which even simple possession was a chargeable criminal offense.
That all changed on Wednesday, at least in part, when President Joe Biden issued an executive order to grant full pardons to all U.S. citizens and legal residents who had been convicted of simple possession of marijuana, the Daily Wire reported.
Biden further encouraged all state governors to do the same thing and ordered both the Attorney General and Health and Human Services secretary to “expeditiously” review the administrative processes involved in potentially altering the level of classification for marijuana or even de-scheduling the drug altogether.
Statement and formal proclamation
“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” President Biden said in a statement. “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,” he continued. “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.”
Thus, Biden announced three steps that he was taking — granting pardons for all federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana, which would be handled by the Attorney General; urging all state governors to follow suit and do the same; and instructing the Justice Department and HHS to review how marijuana is scheduled as a controlled substance.
“Finally, even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales should stay in place,” the president added. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
President Biden also issued a formal proclamation to announce the pardons for simple possession of marijuana at the federal level as well as in federally controlled Washington D.C.
It was noted that the pardons only pertained to simple possession and not any other marijuana-related federal offenses or any other controlled substance, nor were the pardons applicable to “non-citizens not lawfully present” in the country at the time of their conviction for simple marijuana possession.
Applies to more than 6,500 federal convictions, “thousands” more in D.C.
The White House also held a “background press call” ahead of President Biden’s executive actions in which two unnamed “senior administration officials” informed reporters about what was about to occur and answered a few questions on some of the details.
Those officials estimated that a little more than 6,500 individuals would benefit from the pardons at the federal level, plus an unspecified “thousands” more in D.C., and stressed the importance of state governors issuing similar pardons since the vast majority of people charged and convicted of simple possession of marijuana were at the state level.
As for the ordered review of how marijuana is scheduled as a controlled substance, the officials were more circumspect and left open the possibility that no changes would be made following the review, and further noted that even though Biden had called for the review to be conducted “expeditiously,” he was not “setting an artificial timeline” on when that review should be completed or what the ultimate determination should be.