President Joe Biden announced a pardon for all previous federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana in a measure hailed as “long overdue” by criminal justice advocates.
“There are thousands of people who have already been federally convicted of possession of marijuana, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My action will help mitigate the collateral consequences arising from these convictions,” Biden said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
“Sending people to jail for possession of marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for behaviors that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for possession of marijuana have also imposed unnecessary barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities. 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,” he said. added.
Administration officials said the pardon could benefit about 6,500 people, the hill reports.
“It’s time we righted those wrongs,” Biden said.
He then urged all governors to do the same when it comes to state offenses, saying, “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason either.
The president also called on the secretary of health and human services and the attorney general to begin the administrative process to review how marijuana is enshrined in federal law.
Marijuana is currently classified in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act under federal law. Drugs classified under this schedule have “no currently accepted medical use and high potential for abuse”.
This classification puts marijuana on the same list as heroin and LSD and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine, two drugs that are fueling the ongoing overdose epidemic across the country.
Advocacy groups welcomed Biden’s announcement, with Kassandra Frédérique, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, saying the organization was “thrilled” but adding “it’s incredibly long overdue.”
“There’s no reason people should be saddled with criminal records – preventing them from getting jobs, housing and countless other opportunities – for something that’s already legal in 19 states and DC and decriminalized in 31 states.”
The Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said “Biden’s righteous action today will restore the lives of countless Americans.” But he added, “The United States will rightfully never legalize marijuana until it addresses outdated policies that equated thousands of young black men with hardened drug dealers.”
The move also addresses one of the Democratic nominee’s top priorities in one of his party’s most critical Senate races, as Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has repeatedly pressed Biden to take the plunge. , including last month when they met in Pittsburgh.
Fetterman, in a statement, took credit for putting the issue on Biden’s agenda and praised the decision, calling it “a massive step toward justice.”
“This action by President Biden is exactly what this job should be about: improving people’s lives. I commend the President for taking this important, necessary, and just step to right a wrong and improve the lives of millions of Americans,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report