In Historic Move, Biden Pardons All Prior Federal Convictions For Marijuana Possessions

President Joe Biden took his first major steps toward decriminalizing marijuana Thursday, fulfilling a campaign pledge to erase prior federal possession convictions and beginning the process of potentially loosening federal classification of the drug. Pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, a move that senior administration officials said would affect thousands of Americans charged with that crime.

Making this announcement just a month for the high publicized midterm elections in November that will most likely determine control of Congress, Biden urged governors to follow his lead for people convicted on state charges of possession. The number of convictions under state laws vastly outnumbers those who have been charged with a violation of federal laws, limiting the overall reach of the president’s actions on Thursday.

Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D (NY-16) celebrated President Biden’s federal pardon on marijuana convictions while calling for more

“Finally, our federal system is recognizing the harm marijuana convictions have had on people and communities for generations, and is attempting to rectify that harm,” Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D (NY-16) shared with Black Westchester. “President Biden’s decision to pardon all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession brings us that much closer to restoring justice in our communities that have been targeted for decades. This comes after I wrote a letter to President Biden last year, alongside our Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Rep. Barbara Lee, calling for the federal pardon of all non-violent cannabis convictions.”

Biden said his administration would review whether marijuana should still be a Schedule 1 drug like heroin and LSD, saying that “makes no sense.”

The pardons will clear about 6,500 people who were convicted on federal charges of simple possession of marijuana from 1992 to 2021 and thousands more who were convicted of possession in the District of Columbia, officials said ahead of the president’s announcement.

Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President of the National Action Network (NAN), issued the following statement on President Biden’s marijuana reforms, which include a historic decision to pardon of all federal offenses of simple possession.

“The United States will never justly legalize marijuana until it reckons with the outdated policies that equated thousands of young Black men with hardened drug pushers. President Biden’s righteous action today will give countless Americans their lives back. They were thrown behind bars for years on end for simple possession, a non-violent offense, for a substance that red states and blue states are now legalizing at a furious clip. This held them back from jobs, homes, and the general dignity they now get back with this full pardon. The National Action Network began pushing for these reforms nearly a decade ago, when it became clear the conversation around legalization began to change. We will continue to monitor the legalization and hold the federal government to its word.  I echo the President’s call on governors to follow suit and deliver this same justice at the state level. They cannot legalize marijuana at the state house until they rectify what went on at the jail house.” 

White House aides were also watching the calendar with the midterms in mind, hoping that the changes long sought by criminal justice advocates will help build enthusiasm among Black voters, younger voters and a wider array of core Democratic voters.

“Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives — for conduct that is legal in many states,” the 46th President said on Twitter on Thursday. “That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs.

Mr. Biden stopped short of calling for the complete decriminalization of marijuana — something that Congress would have to do — and said that the federal government still needs “important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales of marijuana.”

In December 2020, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, or MORE Act, passed 24-10 after more than two hours of debate, but as with many other bills passed by the House, it died in the Senate.

Biden’s executive actions move the federal government in the direction of the positions taken by some state governments, which have already reduced or eliminated the criminal punishments for simply possessing marijuana — punishments that for decades have sent people to jail. It could also be one step closer to complete federal decriminalization.

In March,  Westchester County District Attorney Miriam E. Rocah announced that the courts have granted her petition to dismiss all marijuana cases involving felony and misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession or sale.

“In communities of color and underserved communities, having a conviction for marijuana possession changes the trajectory of one’s life and has a lasting impact for those attempting to find work, housing or even get an education. That is unacceptable,” Congressman Bowman shared in closing. “Many states, including New York, have legalized marijuana for recreational use and studies show a significant majority of Americans support legalization for medical and recreational use in every state. I hope that more states follow President Biden’s lead today and that of states where marijuana is now legalized. In states where it is legalized, I also urge lawmakers and business leaders to make the marijuana industry more accessible – especially for those who have been historically harmed by predatory marijuana laws and restrictions. Today’s announcement will reunite thousands of families and communities. We need to deschedule marijuana, legalize it in every state and pardon all who have been convicted of marijuana possession – now!”