President Biden announced last Thursday that he would be pardoning all those convicted for simple marijuana possession at the federal level, as part of a move to overhaul federal marijuana laws in the U.S.
Biden had previously campaigned on decriminalization but had not addressed the matter in his presidency until now. He stated in a tweet, “As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.”
He explained his plans for the overhaul, “First: I’m pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession. There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden.”
“Second: I’m calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses. Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”
“Third: We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense. I’m asking @SecBecerra and the Attorney General to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
The New York Times reported that the pardons will apply to around 6,500 people convicted between 1992 and 2021 under federal law, as well as thousands more under the DC code. Although this is just a fraction of the total number of convictions – with marijuana arrests totalling 8.2 million between 2001 and 2010. Although the number of people pardoned could increase significantly if state governors respond to Biden’s plea.
Cannabis is currently legal in 37 states, but not at the federal level. Previous plans for the federal legalization of marijuana were halted due to the complexities of adopting banking, regulation, and criminal justice reform to support the move, despite the plan being widely supported by both political parties.
The new review of marijuana scheduling could eventually lead to a change in federal policy and even to legalization, opening significant business opportunities for the legal cultivation of marijuana and its use in a multitude of products. Although this is still likely a long way off.