On Thursday (October 6), Vice President Joe Biden issued a pardon to thousands of Americans who had previously been convicted of marijuana possession, clearing the way for possible rescheduling of the drug under US federal law.
In his 2020 campaign, Joe Biden promised to work to reduce marijuana’s criminal penalties if he was elected. Before the midterm elections in November which will determine which party controls the US Congress, this move by Biden is likely to please his liberal to left-leaning supporters.
What Exactly Did Biden Say?
On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden issued a statement outlining three initiatives to revise America’s marijuana laws. Vice President Biden has argued that marijuana use and possession should not result in criminal penalties.
“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” he continued. Having a criminal record for marijuana possession can make it challenging to find work, a place to live or go to school.
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.
— President Biden (@POTUS) October 6, 2022
Those whose convictions involve the promotion, distribution or sale of marijuana are not eligible for these clemency programs. Biden said in a tweet, “I’d also like to note that as federal and state regulations change, we still need important limits on trafficking, marketing and underage sales of marijuana.”
The disproportionate number of black and brown people in the United States who are arrested for marijuana possession was another issue Biden brought up. His statement was something to the effect of, “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.”
How Will Americans Be Affected?
To begin, Biden declared a blanket amnesty for all federal marijuana possession convictions. He announced that the Attorney General had been ordered to establish a procedure for issuing pardons and other administrative relief to those who qualify.
Vice President Biden has stated, “There are thousands of people who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession and as a result, they may be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities.” The collateral effects of these convictions will be mitigated by my efforts.
To continue, Biden requested that all state governors commute the sentences of people whose only crime was possessing small amounts of marijuana. Just as no one should go to federal prison for marijuana possession, neither should anyone go to jail or prison in their home state for the same reason.
In his statement, Biden also requested that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice establish an administrative process to determine whether or not marijuana falls under federal jurisdiction.
He explained that under current federal law, marijuana is considered so dangerous that it is placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine which are largely responsible for the current overdose crisis are placed in the same category as heroin and LSD.
‘Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,’ Biden continued. It’s high time we put an end to these injustices.
When these pardons go into effect, they will exonerate everyone who has ever been convicted of federal charges related to simple possession of marijuana since the drug’s criminalization in the 1970s.
The New York Times reported that while the officials claimed that full data was not yet available, the decision will benefit 6,500 people convicted of drug possession between 1992 and 2021. There are “no individuals currently in federal prison solely for simple possession of marijuana,” the White House said on Thursday.
The change was made after Vice President Joe Biden publicly apologized for his part in helping to pass a crime bill in 1994 that included harsh penalties for drug offenders. This bill had been signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Current Law on marijuana possession
According to the definition of “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” found in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 substance along with LSD and heroin.
A first-time conviction for marijuana possession in the United States carries a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum sentence of one year in prison. A second conviction carries a mandatory minimum of 15 days in jail and a maximum of two years, in addition to a $2,500 fine.
Repeat offenders face a maximum of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine for their offense.
US And Marijuana Legalisation
Twenty states in the US have fully legalized recreational marijuana use while another 38 have legalized its medical use.
Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia (for a total of 38 states).
To varying degrees, many US states have legalized marijuana use for either medical or recreational purposes.
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. https://t.co/pNKxF0SnVq
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) August 29, 2022
The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act was passed by the House in February, paving the way for marijuana businesses to gain access to banking. There has been no vote on the bill in the Senate as of yet.
The Senate passed the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act in March of this year, easing the way for scientists to investigate cannabis’s potential therapeutic uses.
Pew Research Center found that 91% of Americans think marijuana should be legalized in some form by 2021. 60% want it legalized for both medical and recreational use while 31% want it legalized only for medical use.
Many Democrats have been pressing Biden for years to end marijuana’s criminal status. For example, Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman tweeted over a month ago, “It’s long past time that we finally decriminalize marijuana.”
A Gallup poll conducted in 2021 found that 68% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana and that 48% of Americans have tried marijuana at least once.