Biden Pardons People Convicted of Marijuana Possession

Biden Pardons People Convicted of Marijuana Possession
President Joe Biden delivers remarks in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on Oct. 6, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

President Joe Biden on Oct. 6 announced he has chosen to pardon every person who was convicted of possessing marijuana on a federal level or in the District of Columbia.

“There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden,” Biden said in a statement.

The Biden administration said there are over 6,500 people with federal convictions from 1992 to 2021 and thousands of others with convictions under D.C. law.

Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor that can land a person up to one year in jail on the first offense, two years in jail on the second offense, and three years in jail for each subsequent offense. No people, however, are currently in federal prison solely for possession of marijuana, a Biden administration official told reporters on a call.

Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I is the highest classification, reserved for drugs that have “a high potential for abuse” and for which there is no accepted medical use, according to the Controlled Substance Act.

But a growing number of states have decriminalized marijuana possession and other marijuana-related offenses in recent years, and federal officials rarely bring federal charges against people who are violating federal law.

“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.

Anthony Coley, a Department of Justice spokesman, said the agency will “expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation” and start implementing a process that will provide the relevant people with certificates of pardon.

Biden’s proclamation makes clear that the pardons do not apply to any other offense, and do not apply to non-citizens who weren’t legally present in the United States at the time they possessed marijuana.

Along with his pardon of federal-level offenses, Biden is urging governors across the country to pardon state-level marijuana possession charges.

He also asked Health Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland, both Biden appointees, to start a review of how marijuana is classified.

Officials with the Departments of Health and Justice said they would undertake the review.

A slew of Democrats praised Biden’s pardon announcement.

“This step was long overdue—the next step: legalization!” Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

“This is an important step forward. Outdated and prejudicial laws criminalizing marijuana usage harm our communities and I’m glad to see the Administration taking action toward a more fair justice system,” Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) added.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, said that he supports reclassifying marijuana but called Biden’s blanket pardon “the most political, cynical abuse of the pardon power in history,” noting that the midterm elections are taking place in about a month.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said Biden’s moves “are long overdue” but that the administration and Congress need to work together to repeal laws related to marijuana.