On October 6, 2022, President Biden released a proclamation granting a pardon for the offense of simple possession of marijuana. In statements following the official pardon proclamation, President Biden stated, “no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.” President Biden explained how imprisonment for simple possession ruins lives and creates unnecessary barriers to employment.
Biden further states that statistics show that white and Black and brown people have similar usage rates, but disproportionate arrest, prosecution, and conviction rates. One American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) study, found that persons of color are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.
Meaning of the Federal Pardon
First, it is important to note that this proclamation only affects people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law and D.C. statute. Between 1992 and 2021, more than 6,500 people were convicted under federal law, and thousands more under D.C. law. Notably, most simple possession convictions happen under state laws. Those convicted under state laws are not included in the federal pardon.
The decision to pardon simple marijuana possession convictions at the state rests with each states’ governor. President Biden is urging all Governors to grant similar pardons with regard to state offenses. The President further emphasizes that no one should be in a local jail or state prison due solely to possession of marijuana.
Further Federal Action
In President Biden’s Statement on Marijuana Reform, he requests that Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice (DOJ) review the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule 1 drugs are among the most dangerous, including heroin and LSD. President Biden states that marijuana is classified in a higher (more dangerous) category than fentanyl and methamphetamine. Significantly, Biden says it is important to keep laws regarding trafficking, marketing, and underage sales both at the state and federal level.
The Proclamation and Statement do not legalize or decriminalize the use of marijuana. Congress would have to take action to make marijuana legal at the federal level.
Intent Behind the Pardon
Biden’s Statement refers to righting previous wrongs with regard to our country’s approach to marijuana. Black people are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in every state. Adjusting the marijuana possession laws are a much-needed step toward racial justice.