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In Historic Move, Biden Announces He Will Pardon Thousands of Federal Cannabis Offenses

Today, President Joe Biden stated that he would pardon federal criminals who have been convicted for the simple possession of marijuana. Further, he stated that he would order the U.S. Assistant General Merrick B. Garland and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra begin reviewing federal marijuana classifications.

On October 6, the White House published an official statement stating that marijuana falls within Schedule I under federal law. This includes deadly drugs such fentanyl. The White House will  “review expeditiously” the plant’s current classification.

The New York TimesAccording to reports, the change will impact upwards of 6,500 federally convicted people for simple possession of marijuana between 1992 and 2021. There are thousands of additional convictions in the District of Columbia.

“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden tweeted. “Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.”

Biden then outlined three main points. Pardoning any federal offences of simple marijuana possession, calling for governors’ pardons of simple state marijuana possession crimes and asking Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Merrick B. Garrland to start the process of reviewing the federal laws regarding cannabis scheduling.

NORML leaders are cautiously optimistic and note that the White House has been trying for years to support real marijuana reform at the federal stage.

“Many of the efforts taken and proposed by the President today are long overdue,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement provided to Chronic News. “For nearly two years, NORML has called upon the Administration to fulfill the President’s campaign promise to provide relief to those stigmatized with a low-level cannabis conviction. Today, President Biden fulfilled this promise and is now encouraging governors in the same direction to allow millions of Americans with past convictions for cannabis crimes to move on with their lives. Since 1965, nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related violations—for activities that the majority of voters no longer believe ought to be a crime.”

“Moving forward, the Administration must work collaboratively with Congressional leadership to repeal America’s failed marijuana criminalization laws. Nearly half of voters now agree that legalizing marijuana ought to be a priority for Congress, and such action can only be taken by descheduling cannabis and repealing it from the US Controlled Substances Act—thereby regulating it in a manner similar to alcohol. Congress should be inspired by the Administration’s actions today to act quickly and send legislation to the President’s desk that would help close this dark chapter of our history.”

Leaders in Congress—notably members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus—applauded the move. Earl Blumenauer’s office, co-chairman of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and founder of it, sent a similar message. Chronic NewsHe made an official statement about the matter.

“Today, President Biden took an important step in the fight to end the federal government’s failed and discriminatory prohibition of cannabis,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “No president has stepped forward to pardon low-level marijuana offenders at this scale before. At a time when 99% of Americans live in a state where some form of cannabis use is legal, it is unthinkable that anyone—especially predominantly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Americans—are imprisoned for simple, nonviolent cannabis possession.”

“This is a critical, important step forward for racial justice in the failed war on drugs that too often targeted people of color, especially Black and Latino men. While this order is welcome and long overdue, it is just the first step of many that this Administration should take,” Congressman Blumenauer continued. “We have pending legislation that deals with medical marijuana research and the ability for cannabis businesses to access banking services—both of which have gained support in the House and Senate. It is important that the President embraces and celebrates this. The federal government must be there to support the President.

“There was a time when this was controversial,” Congressman Blumenauer added. “Yet for several years, the federal government has been left behind by people and states who did not wait. More than two-thirds support full legalization. Half of American Republicans also want to stop the failed war against drugs. We welcome this action and hope it is the first of several noncontroversial critical steps to promote justice, equity, and rational policy.”

US Cannabis Council (USCC) CEO, Khadijah Tribble also chimed in, saying that Biden’s statement aligns with many of the council’s goals.

“President Biden is right: No one should be in jail just for using or possessing cannabis. The executive actions will have a positive impact on many Americans who are burdened by criminal history and suffer the unfair consequences and suffering of marijuana prohibition. It is especially important for Black and brown communities who have been most negatively affected by criminalization.

“We commend the President for making good on his campaign promise to grant pardons to non-violent cannabis offenders. This announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration appointing the first advisor on cannabis research and regulation at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and further reinforces the fact that it’s just a question of when—not if—cannabis is decriminalized altogether.

“As the nation reckons with the wrongs of the past, it’s also time to look to the future. The Senate should pass the SAFE Banking Act, to help ensure that the communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition can safely and gainfully participate in the burgeoning cannabis industry,” Tribble said.

The Justice Department is going to begin the process for providing pardon certificates to eligible people. USA Today reports.