President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that he will pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law.
In addition, Biden said he would urge governors to take similar steps with regard to state offenses and would ask the departments of Health and Human Services and Justice to examine marijuana’s federal law scheduling.
The president’s move represents a dramatic change in federal policy toward marijuana and moves the country closer to fulfilling his campaign promise to decriminalize marijuana.
Biden said in a statement that “sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for behavior that many states no longer ban.” Additionally, having a criminal record for marijuana use has created unnecessary obstacles for finding work, housing, and educational prospects. Additionally, despite the fact that white and Black and brown individuals consume marijuana at comparable rates, Black and brown people are disproportionately arrested, prosecuted, and convicted.
From 1992 to 2021, more than 6,500 Americans were found guilty of simple possession of marijuana under federal law, and thousands more were found guilty under a Washington, D.C. ordinance, according to a senior administration official. The majority of marijuana possession convictions take place at the state level, according to the official, and there are no people now imprisoned in federal facilities purely for basic marijuana possession.
Cannabis is currently categorized by federal law as a schedule 1 substance, along with heroin and LSD.
A total of 37 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and 19 states and Washington, DC have made marijuana legal for individuals over 21. In November, voters in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota will decide whether to legalize marijuana for adults in their respective states.
A senior administration official claimed during a conference call with reporters that thousands of people with prior marijuana possession convictions are excluded from housing, employment, and educational prospects as a result. These collateral ramifications will be lessened thanks to this pardon, they claimed.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said that it would take action to grant pardons to specific people in the coming days. Just a few weeks remain until the midterm elections, in which Democrats will be defending their narrow majorities in the House and Senate. According to a Gallup study conducted in November 2021, 68 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana.
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