US president Joe Biden has officially pardoned thousands of people who have convictions for possessing cannabis. The pardons are for ‘simple possession’ offences, and do not extend to convictions for selling or trafficking the drug.
‘As I often said during my campaign for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,’ he said. ‘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.’
Black people were also far more likely to be arrested, prosecuted and convicted for cannabis offences, he added, despite using the drug at similar rates to white people.
The pardon covers all prior federal offences for simple possession of cannabis, and a process has been initiated for certificates of pardon to be issued to anyone eligible. This is in order to tackle the issue of people being denied employment, education or housing as a result of their conviction. Biden is also urging the governors of every US state to issue pardons for state offences, he said, as well as initiating a review process into how cannabis is scheduled under US federal law. ‘Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,’ he said. ‘It’s time that we right these wrongs.’
‘We are thrilled to see President Biden holding true to his commitment to pardon every person with simple marijuana possession charges at the federal level,’ said executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance NGO. ‘And we are further encouraged by his efforts to get governors to take similar actions at the state level. This is incredibly long overdue. We, however, hope that the Biden Administration will go further and fully de-schedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), rather than initiate a process that could lead to rescheduling.’
See November’s DDN for a report from HRI’s latest Constellations event, featuring a discussion between The Wire creator David Simon and ex-mayor of Baltimore Kurt Schmoke on US drug laws, decriminalisation and harm reduction