On Thursday, President Biden pardoned thousands of Americans convicted under federal law of simple marijuana possession. The White House also said it will review whether or not marijuana should remain a Schedule 1 narcotic--the same classification as drugs like heroin and LSD.
The move will clear the records of everyone convicted under federal law for simple marijuana possession since it was criminalized in the 1970s. The total numbers aren't yet available, but about 6500 people were convicted between 1992-2021. It will also affect thousands of people convicted under Washington D.C.'s laws.
“Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives — for conduct that is legal in many states,” President Biden Tweeted on Thursday. “That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs.”
The move does not apply to those convicted of selling or distributing marijuana, and no one is currently serving time in federal prison for simple possession. The president was also careful to note that the federal government still needs “important limitations on trafficking, marketing and underage sales of marijuana."
it also doesn't fully decriminalize marijuana-something Congress would have to do. Congress can also change the schedule of a drug, but given the current political environment, any move that could be seen as supporting the White House is unlikely.
The President has instead chosen an administrative path, recommending Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra file a petition to reschedule cannabis with the Attorney General. This will trigger a review of scientific evidence and possible social harms. Once complete, the agencies will then return a recommendation.
With 72 percent of democrats supporting reform, Democratic candidates have been pressuring the white house to move more in line with the party as a whole going into the midterms. In August, Pennsylvania Lt. Governor and senate candidate John Fetterman tweeted
"It’s long past time that we finally decriminalize marijuana. Too many lives like Paul's have been destroyed by misguided policy most Americans want to see reformed. @POTUS you have the power to use your executive authority to chart a new course. "
Wiping records clean could mean easier access to jobs, housing, and benefits for many Americans. It also further federal aligns federal law with that of several states that have already either reduced or eliminated possession laws. Cannabis is also already fully legal in 20 states, while fully criminalized in only 4. Broader reform & rescheduling could potentially mean greater access to it for those using it to treat medical issues such as PTSD and migraines.