US President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a pardon for all Americans convicted of marijuana possession under federal laws, meeting a longtime demand of supporters a month out from midterm congressional elections.
“I am announcing a pardon of all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana,” Biden said in a statement issued both in writing and by video message. He also urged governors to extend the clemency to the far bigger number of people who have run afoul of state laws criminalizing marijuana possession.
“As I often said during my campaign for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. 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.
He noted that non-white people are disproportionately affected by marijuana convictions, which in addition to sometimes including jail time can unleash years of legal fallout, creating difficulties in getting work and education.
Officials told reporters that only about 6,500 people are directly affected by convictions under federal marijuana statutes. However, Biden’s gesture aims to take the shift much further, with encouragement to state authorities to follow suit, while also looking at reclassifying marijuana as a less serious controlled substance.
“I am urging all governors to do the same with regard to state offenses. 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, either,” Biden said.
The third measure announced was instructing federal health and justice officials to “review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
Currently, federal law lumps marijuana along with what are widely accepted to be far more dangerous narcotics such as heroin and LSD. It is in a group higher than the relatively modern — and hugely addictive — drugs fentanyl and methamphetamine.