President Biden announced a pardon for over 6,500 people convicted for simple marijuana possession.
President Biden announced a pardon for over 6,500 people convicted for simple marijuana possession. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images.

Biden pardons thousands convicted of federal simple marijuana possession

Over 6,500 individuals would be pardoned for simple possession from 1992 to 2021.


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On Thursday, Oct. 6, President Joe Biden announced he would be pardoning individuals who were convicted of simple marijuana possession in an action widely praised. By the numbers, it amounts to over 6,500 people who were convicted of possession from 1992 to 2021, as well as thousands more who were convicted in the District of Columbia. 

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a press release. 

He also noted how marijuana convictions have had especially negative impacts on Black and Brown communities throughout the U.S.

“Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates,” Biden said. 

The administration also announced the President would consult with his cabinet on whether Marijuana should still be a Schedule I drug on the same level as heroin, cocaine, and LSD. He also noted that it was a higher classification than fentanyl, which is driving the country’s opioid crisis.

The Biden Administration also urged state governors to follow in the same footsteps in pardoning those convicted of state charges from which most of the marijuana possession charges stem from. 

“Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” Biden said. 

Many political leaders have asked for this kind of executive action, such as Pennsylvania Lieutenant and current Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate John Fetterman, also a marijuana legalization advocate. He made a point to bring it up when both met during a Labor Day weekend rally in Pittsburgh. 

Fetterman tweeted out his response to the pardon. 

“I spoke with @POTUS last month about decriminalizing marijuana. Because no one should be turned down for a job or housing or volunteering at their kid’s school because of some old nonviolent weed charge. This is a BFD and a massive step towards justice. Thank you, Mr. President,” Fetterman tweeted. 

This completes another one of Biden’s campaign promises in addressing marijuana decriminalization, as well as the charging practices that have resulted in thousands of convictions of Black and Brown individuals. 

However, the pardon will not qualify for convictions for possession of other drugs or charges stemming from producing or possessing marijuana with intention to distribute. It will also not pardon non-citizens who were in the country without legal status at the time of their arrest. 

In his announcement, Biden also directed Attorney General Merrick Garland to create an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to the thousands of eligible individuals. The president says these actions would help those who have been denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result of their simple possession convictions. 

Biden’s executive action puts the federal government on the same path with cities like New York, who in recent times have moved toward decriminalizing low-level marijuana arrests. 

However, a big divide still exists between the country as some police departments still believe that marijuana is a gateway to more serious crimes and fear that decriminalizing low-level offenses like possession will only perpetuate criminals to do more. 

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” Biden concluded in his announcement.


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