DemDaily: Biden Pardons Pot Possession
October 7, 2022
In a major drug policy shift, President Biden on Thursday signed an executive order pardoning thousands of convicted felons on federal charges of simple marijuana possession.
The order clears the records of those convicted under federal law since marijuana was criminalized in 1970, including some 6,500 people convicted over the last two decades. It will also apply to the records of thousands more convicted under District of Columbia drug laws.
Biden said that "criminal records from marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, to housing and to educational opportunities."
|“Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives -- for conduct that is legal in many states. That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs.” - President Joe Biden
The pardons will not apply to people convicted of selling or distributing marijuana and the President noted that the federal government still needs “important limitations on trafficking, marketing and underage sales of marijuana.”
Biden also said his administration would review marijuana's current classification as a Schedule 1 substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which puts it in the same category as heroin. The category is reserved for the most tightly restricted drugs which are considered highly addictive and have "no currently accepted medical use."
The order does not, however, apply to the millions more convicted at the state level which greatly outnumber those charged under federal laws.
While some state governments have already reduced or eliminated the criminal punishments for marijuana possession, more than 170,800 of the roughly 490,000 drug possession arrests in 2021 alone were related to marijuana possession.
Biden urged governors to take similar steps with regard to state offenses.
Although traditionally seen as a Democratic issue, some Republican lawmakers across the country have embraced the issue in recent years as red state voters signal their approval of medicinal and recreational use of the psychoactive substance.
Since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, a majority of states have passed legislation or ballot initiatives allowing residents to legally light up on some level.
|Status of The States: The medical use of cannabis is legal in 37 states, the District of Columbia (DC) and four Territories. The recreational use of cannabis has been legalized in 19 states, DC, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
While it is still illegal in 13 states, of those, Nebraska decriminalized the first offense of possession, and North Carolina decriminalized possession below 1.5 ounces.
Thursday's announcement delivered on Biden's campaign promise to decriminalize marijuana but stops short of calling for the drug to be legalized on the federal level. That is up to the US Congress.
In April of 2022, the US House passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, 220-204, largely along party lines.
On July 21 of this year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and empower states to implement their own cannabis laws. Although the bill had bipartisan support, it did not go beyond the Senate Finance Committee in the 117th Congress.
Marijuana is also on the ballot in November, with five states voting on whether to legalize adult-use marijuana: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota.
A September 30-October 2, 2022, 2021 Morning Consult/Politico poll showed three in five registered voters supported the legalization of marijuana in the United States (MOE +/- 2%).
Related: DemDaily: What's Going On with Cannabis 8/2/22
Vote!: Where Your Members of Congress Stand on Cannabis Reform
Check Out: Marijuana Laws in Your State
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Sources: White House, NORML, US Senate, FBI, New York Times, CNN