President Joseph Biden said last week that his recent executive action to pardon federal low-level marijuana convictions would apply to cases of cannabis use and possession, but indicated that relief would not apply to those convicted of marijuana sales.
“I’m keeping my promise that no one should be in jail for merely using or possessing marijuana,”
“You can’t sell it,” the president added. “But if it’s just use, you’re completely free.”
President Announces Marijuana Pardons
On October 6,
“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,”
The pardons will affect about 6,500 people who were convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and thousands more with similar charges in the District of Columbia,
Additionally, the president directed Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department to review the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. According to the legislation, the Schedule I classification is meant for drugs with no medical value and a high risk of abuse.
Decisive Action or Too Little, Too Late?
Reactions to Biden’s announced pardons were mixed. While some marijuana policy reform activists and cannabis industry leaders believed the action by the president was a groundbreaking step in the right direction, others felt that the pardons for cannabis possession charges only are insufficient.
Khadijah Tribble, CEO of the industry group the U.S. Cannabis Council and vice chair of the NAACP board of directors, applauded the president’s move shortly after the pardons were announced.
“President Biden is right: No one should be in jail just for using or possessing cannabis. This executive action will positively impact countless Americans who have been saddled with criminal histories and the unjust suffering and consequences of cannabis prohibition,”
“We commend the President for making good on his campaign promise to grant pardons to non-violent cannabis offenders,” she added. “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.”
But others have criticized Biden’s pardons as a largely symbolic gesture with little real value, noting the move does result in the release of any cannabis prisoners. Groups including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, D.C. Marijuana Justice, the Last Prisoner Project and Maryland Marijuana Justice planned a White House protest for Monday, calling on the president to take more meaningful action in an era of legal recreational marijuana in more than one-third of the states.
“We would prefer not to have to escalate our protests, however your administration has thus far refused to release our incarcerated neighbors, friends, and family members and it is therefore our moral duty to mobilize sufficient public attention to your lack of action on this urgent injustice that you promised to address,” the activist groups wrote in the letter to Biden.
“Under your watch, billions of dollars are being made for wealthy corporations, while real people, disproportionately people of color, are wasting their lives in cages,” they added.