Yesterday, President Biden pardoned thousands of people with federal convictions for simple marijuana possession and urged governors to follow his lead.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” the president said in a video statement. “There are thousands of people who were convicted for marijuana possession who may be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities as a result.”
“While White and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates,” he added, “Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
The Justice Department will develop an administrative process to pardon and clear the records of all citizens and lawful permanent residents convicted of simple possession in federal court or under D.C. drug laws since the 1970s, senior White House officials told reporters.
More than 6,500 people were convicted of simple possession under federal law between 1992 and 2021, and thousands more were convicted under D.C. drug laws, the officials said.
Far more have been convicted and sentenced to prison for simple marijuana possession in state courts across the country.
Nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related offenses since 1965, Erik Altieri of NORML, a pro-legalization advocacy group, told The Washington Post.
Nationwide, more than 600,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 2018 alone, according to data from the ACLU.
Mr. Biden encouraged governors to offer their own mass pardons, noting that it is legal to possess marijuana in many states.
Marijuana is legal for recreational use in 19 states and 37 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use, according to NPR.
Five states—Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota—will vote on legalization measures next month.
Mr. Biden said his action were a matter of common sense and fairness, and polls suggest most Americans agree, the Post reports.
A 2021 Pew Research Center Poll found that 61% of Americans favored removing or expunging marijuana-related offenses from criminal records.
Support for legalizing marijuana increased from 31% in 2000 to 68% in a November 2021 Gallup poll.
President Biden also directed Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to expedite a review of how marijuana is classified under federal law.
Marijuana currently is listed as a Schedule I substance, a category of drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse that includes heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
President Biden said “it makes no sense” for marijuana to be treated similarly to heroin under federal law and noted that marijuana has a higher classification than fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Experts told the Post the rescheduling of marijuana requires input from multiple federal agencies and could take years.