President Joe Biden announced a mass sorry for persons in federal “simple possession” marijuana indictments, a major step towards the national decriminalization of cannabis and a big win for criminal justice advocates.
“Sending people to jail for possession of marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for behaviors that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement. statement Thursday, calling the U.S. government’s past treatment of marijuana a “failed approach.”
Marijuana is legal for recreational or medical use in most US states, but still remains illegal at the federal level.
“Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed unnecessary barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities,” the president added. “And while whites and blacks and browns use marijuana at similar rates, blacks and browns have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
The president also said he has instructed the attorney general to create a process to effect pardons and is asking the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to review the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug. under the Controlled Substances Act.
Schedule I status means the government considers cannabis to have no accepted medical use and a high risk of abuse. The classification influences how marijuana is treated more generally under federal criminal law and also raises significant hurdles for those researching the medical uses of cannabis.
It is unclear when the pardons would take effect, and the majority of marijuana prisoners in the United States are incarcerated at the state level, not in federal prisons.
In his proposal accompanying the pardon announcement, Mr Biden also called on state governors to adopt similar measures.
Liberal activists and politicians celebrated Mr. Biden’s decision as an important step towards racial justice and the reduction of mass incarceration.
“Congress should take inspiration from the actions of the administration today to act quickly and send legislation to the president’s office that would help close this dark chapter in our history,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the Organization. nation for marijuana law reform. A declaration.
“For years, I have supported millions of Americans calling on multiple jurisdictions to take action to grant pardons and decriminalize cannabis,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. added on Twitter on Thursday. “This decision by President Biden is a historic decision – and it’s the right thing to do.”
It’s unclear which federal charges meet the definition of “simple possession” under the new pardon plan.
A White House official told CNBC that the new policy would affect at least 6,500 people, as well as thousands more charged with possession under Washington DC law, which is also covered by the Biden plan.
The White House too says The Hill that there is no one currently in federal prison solely on the charges outlined in the president’s plan.
Nor would the clemency regime make a major dent in the broader dynamic of the drug issue. Poor people of color have been disproportionately incarcerated for marijuana offensesresulting in not only prison sentences but often lifelong limits on access to jobs and government services, while wealthy whites have were able to disproportionately enter the lucrative marijuana business in states where it is legal.
Many activists and lawmakers argue that a package including full federal legalization, incentives for those concerned with justice to enter the marijuana industry, and large-scale pardons is needed to fully address the inequities of the war on drugs.
“President Biden’s decision to pardon all federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana brings us that much closer to restoring justice to our communities that have been targeted for decades,” Congressman Jamaal Bowman said Thursday. New York, adding, “Today’s announcement will unite thousands of families and communities. We must deprogram marijuana, legalize it in every state, and pardon everyone who has been convicted of marijuana possession – now !”
Even a modest reduction in the number of marijuana convictions would mark a major shift in the US criminal justice system.
In 2018, according to American Civil Liberties Union researchnearly half of all arrests in the United States were for marijuana, with police booking more people for cannabis than all violent crimes combined.
Democratic voters, criminal and racial justice advocates and members of Mr. Biden’s own party have been pushing the White House to take greater action on marijuana reform.
In July, Senators and fellow Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Ron Wyden, Ed Markey and Kirsten Gillibrand attacked Mr. Biden”extraordinarily disappointing” Cannabis record so far.
They’ve been pushing for mass deregistrations and pardons since last year, and many of the group’s members have pushed for federal legislation to make marijuana legal and easier to research.
“It is evident that cannabis has widely accepted medical benefits, confirmed by the medical and scientific communities here and around the world,” the letter read.
As a candidate, Mr. Biden said he supports the decriminalization of cannabis and pardon minor crimes, but did not support full legalization.
The announcement marks a sea change in Joe Biden’s politics. In the 1990s, as a senator, Mr. Biden was one of the main architects of a number of “tough on crime” policies which has exacerbated the War on Drugs and its disproportionate impact on people of color.
The White House has spent the previous weeks debating the intricacies of the pardon announcement, according to CNNas Mr Biden would remain skeptical of full legalization.
The move brings it into line with major national trends about marijuana laws.
Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, while 19 states have passed recreational cannabis laws.
Five other states — Missouri, Arkansas, North and South Dakota, and Maryland — are voting on recreational pot proposals this year.
Progressive candidates like Senate hopeful John Fetterman of Pennsylvania have made marijuana reform a key part of their speech to voters.
Last month in Pittsburgh, Mr. Biden and Mr. Fetterman, the current Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, discussed de-registration from marijuana, Politics reports.
Mr. Fetterman said in a statement that Thursday’s White House move was big business, or BFD. “I spoke with [the president] last month on the decriminalization of marijuana,” the Democrat said. wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
“Because no one should be denied a job, housing or volunteering at their child’s school because of an old non-violent weed accusation. This is a BFD and a massive step towards justice. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.