President Biden Extends Marijuana Pardons

Stephen Andrews
22 Dec 2023

President Biden is continuing his actions on marijuana pardons that he started in 2022. In a new statement, Mr. Biden said that thousands who have been convicted for use and simple possession of marijuana in Washington, D.C., on federal lands, and in the District of Columbia will be released from charges. The clemency granted for these individuals is executive and aimed to correct disparities in the justice system.

President Joe Biden issued a proclamation on Friday, Dec. 22, expanding a marijuana pardon initiative he started out last year. For the first time, the president includes people who committed marijuana possession offenses on federal land. 

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” Biden said in a statement. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

Pardon Includes 11 People with Disproportionately Long Sentences

Among those who are allegedly receiving a pardon from the president are 11 people “who are serving disproportionately long sentences for non-violent drug offences,” it says in the statement. The president added that if this group of people were to be charged under today’s laws, they would receive “significantly lower sentences.” 

The White House said that the 11 individuals had been sentenced to decades in prison, and cases included those with life sentences. 

Biden said his actions would help make the “promise of equal justice a reality.” The categorical pardon issued Friday is an extension of his pardon issued just before the 2022 midterm elections that made thousands of federal convicts for simple possession eligible for pardons. The White House said thousands more would be eligible under Friday’s action

Moreover, the president renewed his call to governors and local leaders to implement similar measures in their states and jurisdictions and erase marijuana convictions such as those for simple possession. 

“Just as no one should be in federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” the president said. “That’s why I continue to urge governors to do the same with regard to state offenses and applaud those who have since taken action.”

Cannabis advocates have welcomed the president’s proclamation on Friday, although some of them have also pointed out that marijuana-focused pardons have not released anyone from prison and exclude significant groups of people, notably immigrants and those with convictions for selling marijuana. 

Friday’s expanded proclamation says that it “does not apply to individuals who were non-citizens not lawfully present in the United States at the time of their offense,” and does not cover “possession of marijuana with intent to distribute or driving offenses committed while under the influence of marijuana.” 

The expanded president’s pardon is issued at a time when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is considering a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services to reschedule cannabis to Schedule III. Biden initiated the review last year at the same time when he announced his very first marijuana clemency action. 

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Stephen Andrews