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Biden Mentions Freeing Prisoners with Cannabis Convictions in MLK Day Speech

January 16th, President Joe Biden addressed a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast in Washington D.C. hosted by National Action Network. He briefly mentioned consumers who were convicted of using cannabis in his speech. “And one other thing about equal justice. I’m keeping my promise,” he said in his speech. “No one—I’ll say it again—no one should be in federal prison for the mere possession of marijuana. No one.”

“In addition to that, they should be released from prison and completely pardoned and their entire record expunged so that if they have to ask, ‘Have you ever been [convicted]?’ You can honestly say, ‘No.’”

During his speech, he spoke out about his efforts to free Brittney Griner (the all-star WNBA basketball player) who was sentenced in Russia after being found with a small amount cannabis oil. “And we brought Brittney Griner home just in time for Christmas.  And we have more to bring home as well,” he said briefly.

Biden seems committed to keeping his promise not to allow citizens to be convicted or sent to federal prisons for marijuana crimes. This is evident from his October 2022 announcement. Biden previously signed an infrastructure bill that included enhancements for cannabis research in November 2021. In December 2022, he signed a bill called the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act which “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development.”

The U.S. The U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), voted earlier this month to approve an amendment to define simple cannabis possession to assist judges in deciding cannabis possession cases. A USSC report analyzing data regarding cannabis possession sentencing was also published on January 10. During Fiscal Year 2021, 4,405 people received extra points on their criminal history record because of a cannabis possession conviction, and 1,765 entered a “higher criminal history category” because of that conviction. Also, the report found that federal simple possession convictions have declined from 2,172 to 2. Fiscal Year 2014Only 145 will be required in Fiscal Year 2021

Initial estimates by the USSC in October 2022 showed that pardons could be granted to 6,577 persons.

Biden’s pardon announcement in October has led other state governors to take similar action. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear stated that he was exploring state weed pardons and then signed an executive order in November to permit medical cannabis. Over 1,450 Arizonans with convictions for federal cannabis possession were pardoned Oct. 25, 2022. 

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown gave more than 45,000 pardons to Oregonians in November 2022. “We are a state, and a nation, of second chances. Today, I am taking steps to right the wrongs of a flawed, inequitable, and outdated criminal justice system in Oregon when it comes to personal marijuana possession,” Brown said in a statement. “For the estimated 45,000 individuals who are receiving a pardon for prior state convictions of marijuana possession, this action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”

Recently, Pennsylvania Governor. On Jan. 12, Tom Wolf approved 369 pardons, bringing the total to 2,540. “I have taken this process very seriously—reviewing and giving careful thought to each and every one of these 2,540 pardons and the lives they will impact,” Wolf said. “Every single one of the Pennsylvanians who made it through the process truly deserves their second chance, and it’s been my honor to grant it.”