United States President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of Americans on Thursday (October 6) who had been convicted of possessing marijuana, paving a way for its possible rescheduling under US federal law.
These pardons are in line with Biden’s 2020 election campaign promise, in which he said he would seek to decriminalise marijuana if elected. Through this move, Biden is likely to please his liberal to left-leaning supporters before the midterm elections scheduled in November, which will determine the party that will control the US Congress.
Joe Biden released a statement on Thursday announcing three steps towards reforming marijuana laws in the United States.
Biden said that no one should be in jail for using or possessing marijuana.
He added, “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.”
I’d also like to note that as federal and state regulations change, we still need important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales of marijuana.
— President Biden (@POTUS) October 6, 2022
Those convicted for marketing, distributing and selling of marijuana do not come under these pardons. Biden tweeted, “I’d also like to note that as federal and state regulations change, we still need important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales of marijuana.”
Biden also touched upon how arrests in the cases of marijuana possession target coloured and black Americans more than white people. He said, “While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
The first step that Biden announced was to pardon all prior federal offences relating to marijuana possession. He said that he had directed the Attorney General to create an administrative process and issue certificates of pardon to those who are eligible for the same.
Biden said, “There are thousands of people who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”
Secondly, Biden urged Governors of all the states to pardon those who were convicted of only possessing marijuana. “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.”
Further in his statement, Biden asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to work towards developing an administrative process to see how marijuana comes under the purview of federal law.
He stated, “Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances. This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic. “
Biden added, “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
These pardons will clear all those who have been convicted of simple possession of marijuana on federal charges since the 1970s, when it became a crime.
The New York Times reported that while the officials said complete data was not yet available, 6,500 people convicted of possession of the drug between 1992 and 2021 will benefit from the move, The New York Times reported.
The White House on Thursday said that there were “no individuals currently in federal prison solely for simple possession of marijuana”.
The move came after Biden apologised for the role he played in strengthening the criminal laws in a 1994 crime bill, which incorporated aggressive measures against drug offenders and was passed by then President Bill Clinton.
Under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, marijuana comes under Schedule 1, along with drugs like LSD and heroin and is defined as “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”.
The possession of marijuana in the US is an offence which is punishable by imprisonment for up to a year and a fine of minimum $1,000 on first conviction.
On second conviction, the offender is imprisoned for a minimum of 15 days and can go up to two years along with a $2,500 fine.
Convictions after the same lead to a minimum imprisonment of 90 days to up to three years along with up to $5,000 fine.
The United States has completely legalised marijuana for recreational use in 20 states and for medical use in 38 states.
These 38 states, which including the 20 states where recreational marijuana is legal are: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
Many states in the US have been increasingly legalising the use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes.
In February this year, the House passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act which allowed marijuana businesses to get access to financial services. The bill is yet to pass in the Senate.
In March this year, the Senate passed the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act to make it easier for researchers to study the medicinal properties of cannabis and other products.
According to a 2021 survey by Pew Research Centre, 91 per cent of Americans believe that marijuana should be legalised to some degree, of which 60 per cent want it to be legalised for medical and recreational use and 31 per cent for only medical use.
It’s long past time that we finally decriminalize marijuana.
Too many lives like Paul’s have been destroyed by misguided policy most Americans want to see reformed. @POTUS you have the power to use your executive authority to chart a new course. https://t.co/pNKxF0SnVq
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) August 29, 2022
Many Democrats have long been asking Biden to decriminalise the use of marijuana. Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman tweeted over a month ago saying, “It’s long past time that we finally decriminalize marijuana. “
According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 68 per cent of Americans support legalising marijuana and 48 per cent of Americans have tried marijuana once in their life.