On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced his intention to pardon some federal marijuana offenses — which many have asserted is just another cynical attempt to satisfy criminal justice and drug policy activists, especially because Biden sponsored the 1994 crime bill that led to mass incarceration for drug-related offenses while he was a senator.
“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” the president said in a statement released by the White House.
Biden continued by adding that marijuana crimes had “upended too many lives,” and announcing his plan to pardon all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana — blatantly sidestepping the authority of Congress to control federal laws related to illegal drugs.
The president has directed Attorney General Merrick Garland to design a system to pardon all eligible individuals, stating that the number of pardons would be in the “thousands.”
“My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions,” Biden said, likely referring to the convictions’ effects on a person’s ability to find housing and jobs.
While the president’s plan to pardon individuals convicted of marijuana possession will only apply to federal offenses, Biden did go on to urge state governors to take similar action.
“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,” he stated.
Biden also noted that he will be taking action to have the federal government reclassify marijuana to a lower category compared to other controlled substances.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” he said. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
The president also sent out a Twitter thread about his plan.
“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out,” Biden began.
As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.
Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.
— President Biden (@POTUS) October 6, 2022
He went on to discuss the consequences that these convictions have had on individuals’ lives, saying that his actions will “remove this burden.”
“First: I’m pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession,” Biden tweeted. “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.”
In another tweet, he reiterated his call for states to take similar action, writing: “Second: I’m calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses. Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”
“Third: We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl,” Biden added. “It makes no sense. I’m asking @SecBecerra and the Attorney General to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
The president did make sure to note that, even while regulations regarding marijuana may change at the federal and state levels, “we still need important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales of marijuana.”
Biden then concluded his Twitter thread by bringing up race in context with the convictions.
“Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives – for conduct that is legal in many states. That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs,” he wrote.
YouTuber Tim Pool discussed the issue during an episode of his live show Timcast IRL soon after the news broke, with some of his guests asserting that this pardon only applies to a small number of individuals, and arguing that it is just a publicity stunt.