Biden pardons thousands convicted of marijuana possession, pushes for end of federal ban

Published: Oct. 06, 2022

President Joe Biden on Thursday said he was pardoning anyone convicted solely on federal charges of possessing cannabis while asking officials to look at removing the federal ban on the drug.

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden said. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

Biden said he would ask governors to follow his lead and pardon those convicted of simple possession under state laws. More and more states, including New Jersey, have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, even though the drub is still illegal under federal law.

“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement. “There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result.”

The White House estimated that more than 6,500 people with federal convictions for simple possession could benefit, plus thousands more convicted under District of Columbia law. But if governors along, the action could bring relief to millions, according to Justin Strekal, a long-time advocate of legal weed who now runs a pro-cannabis political action committee.

In addition, Biden said he was asking for a review of marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin. That classification has hindered research into any medical benefits of cannabis, while hindering legal marijuana businesses from obtaining financial services such as checking accounts for federally chartered banks, and preventing those businesses from deducting their expenses on their federal tax returns.

Biden said that fentanyl and methamphetamine, which he said were “the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic,” have a lower classification than marijuana does.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has introduced comprehensive legislation with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he would continue to try to pass a bill ending the federal ban on cannabis and helping communities and individuals hardest hit by the war on drugs.

The measure has been held up as U.S. Senate supporters of legal weed do not yet have the 60 votes needed to pass legislation in their chamber.

“I hope this executive action will be a catalyst for more change as I continue to make progress with members of Congress from across the political and ideological spectrum to pass legislation that brings federal marijuana laws in line with views of the overwhelming majority of Americans,” Schumer said.

Booker, who in July urged Biden to end the federal ban on cannabis, praised Thursday’s action as “transformative for the lives of thousands of people and families harmed by our broken cannabis laws” and “a huge step forward toward a more just criminal justice system and more rational drug policy.

“Now it’s time for Congress and states to put an end to our failed policies by legalizing and appropriately regulating cannabis, taxing cannabis, reinvesting proceeds in communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs, and expunging criminal records for nonviolent drug offenses,” the New Jersey Democrat said.

The president’s announcement came during a trip to New York and New Jersey, where he was raising money for the Democratic National Committee ahead of November’s midterm elections when control of Congress is at stake.

It was welcomed by supporters of legalizing cannabis.

“Many of the efforts taken and proposed by the president today are long overdue,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Since 1965, nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related violations — for activities that the majority of voters no longer believe ought to be a crime.”

“It’s imperative that we finally harmonize state and federal laws so that Main Street cannabis businesses can supplant underground markets and nobody is ever again put behind bars for a nonviolent marijuana crime,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive of the National Cannabis Industry Association. . “Removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act is the only way to achieve those goals.”

In his statement, Biden used the same argument that Booker regularly uses. The two men clashed during the 2020 presidential election, when Booker said Biden “might have been high” for opposing legalizing marijuana.

“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,” Biden said.

Biden said he would have Attorney General Merrick Garland develop a process to issue pardons to eligible individuals, and urged governors to undertake the same process.

“Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason,” he said.

He also asked Garland and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to look at marijuana’s current classification.

Biden also said he would support limits on trafficking and marketing of cannabis, as well as a ban on underage sales.

Medical cannabis is legal in 37 states and recreational cannabis in 19.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-10-07 02:32:06 -0700