What Biden’s Marijuana Order Does and Doesn’t Do

President Biden announced a sweeping pardon for federal possession of marijuana on Thursday, a step long sought by advocates and the most significant action on marijuana his administration has taken to date. He also asked federal agencies to conduct a review to determine whether marijuana should remain a Schedule I substance.

Lawyers, lawmakers and experts applauded the measures, but acknowledged there were limits. Here’s what Biden’s marijuana order does and doesn’t do:

Those found guilty of simple possession will be pardoned

Pardons will clear anyone convicted of federal charges of simple possession since it became a felony. Pardons will also extend to anyone convicted under the District of Columbia’s drug laws, as the District is not a state and charges in DC are technically considered federal charges.

Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction.

More than 6,500 people have been convicted of simple possession between 1992 and 2021 under federal law, and thousands more under the DC code, White House officials said. But the vast majority of convictions occur at the state level. The White House has called on governors to follow suit and grant the same pardon.

A pardon will not mean people’s records will be erased, but the Justice Department has said it will remove ‘civil disabilities’, which include restrictions on the right to vote, hold office or sit in a jury.

The pardons will not cover any other marijuana-related offenses

All other charges beyond simple possession, such as distribution or possession with intent to distribute, are not covered by Biden’s announcement.

As a result, no one is freed from prison through pardons. There is no one currently in federal prison solely for simple possession, White House officials said.

“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.

This brings the federal government closer to the states

Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and 19 states have legalized marijuana for adult use. Five states have legalization on the ballot in November. Yet even as states moved toward greater acceptance, the federal government continued to focus on prohibition, treating marijuana as a dangerously illegal drug with no potential benefits.

“We have something really crazy that can’t go on anymore, which is that there are active state legal markets doing billions of dollars in trade. And it should be treated as a regulated product, and yet the federal government has kind of acted on an almost ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy here,” said Andrew Freedman, executive director of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy. , Education and Regulation.

During the 2020 campaign, Biden was the only Democratic presidential candidate who did not support federal deprogramming. While in the Senate, Biden drafted some of the very laws that advocates say have led to a disproportionate number of black people incarcerated for relatively minor offenses.

The announcement therefore represents a major shift not only in the federal approach to marijuana, but also in Biden’s.

It does not decriminalize marijuana

Biden’s order is a step toward decriminalization, but it doesn’t go all the way. This is something Congress will have to do.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) has introduced a bill to expunge certain criminal records and remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but he currently does not have the necessary votes.

“Members of Congress have been working on this issue with an important bill passed by the House. That effort has stalled and we’re almost at the end of this Congress,” a senior administration official said Thursday.

Freedman said Biden’s apparent move on marijuana could be the catalyst for Congress to act.

It doesn’t change the way marijuana is programmed

Biden ordered the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to conduct a review of whether to postpone marijuana.

Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, which means it belongs to the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD, and is more serious than fentanyl. According to the federal government, it has a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical value.

Freedman, who served as Colorado’s cannabis czar in 2014 when the state legalized marijuana, said the process of rescheduling a drug can typically take 5 to 10 years. He said the likely outcome of reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule 2 substance – meaning it may have some medicinal benefits but is still harmful – would be fairly limited in impact.

“And so I think there’s more to be gained from using this as a moment for a national conversation [about the limits of prohibition] than talking about the merits of rescheduling,” Freedman said.

Even Democratic lawmakers have urged Biden to do more than just conduct a review.

“An HHS review of cannabis programming is welcome, but those of us who have advocated for reform, we already know that a comprehensive federal solution is needed,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D- Ore.) in a press release. Thursday.

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