Biden Pardons All People Convicted of Marijuana Possession Under Federal Law


AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Biden announced that those with federal charges of simple marijuana possession will be pardoned on Thursday, Oct 6.

Quinn Rudnick and Izzy Krauss

President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that all people federally convicted of marijuana possession will be pardoned of their charges. 

Biden stated that he aims to review the legal classification of marijuana, as it is currently ranked among drugs like heroin and LSD. In addition to pardoning federal charges, Biden asked all governors to lift state charges for possession as well. 

The pardon will take effect on Thursday, Oct. 13, and is estimated to lift charges for nearly 6,500 pre-existing offenses from 1992 to 2021, according to White House officials. 

“As I said when I ran for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a White House video statement. “It’s already legal in many states and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.”

Although some agreed with Biden’s plan to pardon, many Republicans believe that this is an attempt to rebuild from failed leadership. 

“In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders,” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) said in a New York Times interview. “This is a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership.” 

Because pardons will not take effect on people with state charges, part of Biden’s plan was asking all governors to pardon state offenses. Only one day after the statement, Democrat North Carolina Governor Ray Cooper pushed the decriminalization of simple possession on Friday.

Conviction of simple possession can mar people’s records for life and maybe even prevent them from getting a job,” Cooper said during a task force meeting on racial equity and criminal justice.”The [North Carolina] General Assembly didn’t pass your recommendations on this last session, but I believe they should. North Carolina should take steps to end this stigma.”

Another part of Biden’s plan was revising the legal classification of marijuna. Currently, marijuana is ranked as a Schedule One drug, which is defined as a drug with no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse. Because of this classification, marijuana is classified among significantly more dangerous and addictive substances like heroin, ecstasy, and LSD.

“The Federal Government currently classifies marijuana as a schedule one substance, the same as heroin and LSD and more serious than fentanyl, [and] it makes no sense,” Biden said. “So I’m asking the Secretary of Health, Human Services, and the Attorney General’s to initiate a process to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”

Over the course of his administration, Biden has been urged to take action towards marijuana possession charges. In July, some of the senate’s most liberal members, including Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), sent a letter to President Biden asking him to take steps toward pardoning marijuana possession convictions. 

“The administration’s failure to coordinate a timely review of its cannabis policy is harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes,” the letter said. 

Another factor in Biden’s decision was the large disproportion in cases of people being arrested for possession of marijuana. Studies by the ACLU that analyzed marijuana arrest data from 2010 to 2018 show that a Black person is more than three times more likely to be arrested for possession than a white person.

“Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionately higher rates,” Biden said.

Biden’s pardoning of marijuana offenses will have a widespread effect across multiple communities, and is sure to grow even further as governors push for a state pardon as well. 

No one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana,” Biden said. “No one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason either.”