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October surprise: Prez Biden announces he is “pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession”! Wow!


DownloadAbout a half hour ago as of this writing, President Joe Biden has announced a set of remarkable new marijuana policy moves on this Twitter thread, which starts this way:

President Biden @POTUS

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.

First: I’m pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession.  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.

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.  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.

This is very big news (though not quite massive news), with lots of formal and informal ripples for criminal justice systems and sentencing.  The legal, policy, political and practical consequences of these moves are going to be fascinating (and a bit unpredictable, I suspect).


UPDATE: Here is a fuller official statement from the White House, with the federal pardon talk at the start:

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.  Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.  And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.
Today, I am announcing three steps that I am taking to end this failed approach.
First, I am announcing a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.  I have directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.  There are thousands of people who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result.  My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.

According to this New York Times piece, headline “Biden Pardons Thousands of People Convicted of Marijuana Possession Under Federal Law”  the promised pardons have already been issued:

President Biden on Thursday pardoned all people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and said his administration would review whether marijuana should still be a Class 1 drug like heroin and LSD.

The pardons will clear about 6,500 people who were convicted on federal charges of simple possession of marijuana from 1992 to 2021 and thousands more who were convicted of possession in the District of Columbia, officials said. Officials said the president would urge governors to follow his lead for people convicted on state charges of possession.


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