Biden pardons simple marijuana possession charges at the federal level

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Tori Miller | News Editor

President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law Thursday. The decision acts as a stepping stone for his administration to review marijuana’s drug classification — as of right now, the drug is considered legally the same as harder drugs.

“The federal government currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, the same as heroin and LSD and more serious than fentanyl,” Biden said. “It makes no sense.”

These pardons will clear everyone convicted on federal charges of simple possession since it first became a crime in the 1970s; however, the pardons do not apply to people convicted of selling or distributing marijuana. 

There are no people now serving time in federal prisons solely for marijuana possession, according to the New York Times, but the decision will help remove obstacles for people trying to get a job, find housing, apply to college or get federal benefits.

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

Extreme racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests persist throughout the country which have not improved since 2010, according to an ACLU research report, and Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession. 

During his announcement, Biden encouraged governors to pardon state cannabis-related convictions — which greatly outnumber those charged at the federal level — to further his goal of striving toward decriminalizing marijuana. 

Biden stopped short of calling for the complete decriminalization of marijuana, which would take an act of Congress to accomplish. But he said on Twitter that the federal government still needs “important limitations on trafficking, marketing and underage sales of marijuana,” according to the New York Times.

With a month before the midterm elections, the president’s choice could represent a fundamental policy change in America’s response to the highly-debated drug. Both Republicans and Democrats reacted quickly to Biden’s announcement.

“In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders,” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) said. “This is a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership.”

Other Republican figureheads, such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — who is in a highly visible reelection race this year — was asked his opinion but never answered whether he would follow Biden’s lead and pursue marijuana pardons in the state, the Texas Tribune reported.

North Carolina’s top two Democratic officials, Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, said that they support Biden’s move and urged the Republican-led state legislature to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to the Washington Post.

“No one should be in jail because of marijuana. As President, I will decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions,” Biden said during his presidential campaign.

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