On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced executive measures that would pardon thousands of Americans who had previously committed petty marijuana possession convictions under federal law.
“Just as no one should be in a Federal prison purely because to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, too,” Biden continued, urging governors to follow suit with state charges for simple marijuana possession.
The Drug Enforcement Agency’s most dangerous schedule, which includes drugs like heroin and LSD, includes marijuana. The president also gave the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra instructions to review marijuana’s classification as a Schedule I drug under federal law.
The District of Columbia is covered by Biden’s presidential order pardoning simple possession, as are those found guilty in federal court.
Biden stated in a statement that “sending individuals to prison for having marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for behavior that many states no longer ban.”
Prior to the announcement on Thursday afternoon, a senior administration official stated that the action was designed to rectify the nation’s “failed approach to marijuana.”
Although marijuana is legal for recreational use in 19 states, including the District of Columbia, there are still a variety of marijuana-related regulations in place. Marijuana is legal for medicinal use in 38 states.
Idaho, Kansas, and Wyoming are three states where marijuana is prohibited in any form, whether it be for medical or recreational use.
Researchers and civil rights organizations have established that communities of color are disproportionately affected by marijuana possession prosecutions. For instance, the ACLU discovered that Black individuals were 3.7 times more likely than White persons to be prosecuted with marijuana possession.
According to FBI data, police made 663,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2018, accounting for 40% of all drug arrests that year.
While white, Black, and Brown individuals consume marijuana at comparable rates, Black and Brown people are disproportionately imprisoned for it, according to a senior administration official who made the statement on Thursday.
Senior administration officials stated that, as of Thursday, “the pardon does include that activity,” even if a person has not been charged with or found guilty of marijuana possession.
According to a senior administration official, the Department of Justice would establish an administrative procedure for persons who are pardoned to acquire a certificate of their pardon “so that they will have paperwork that they can show to law enforcement, employers, and others as needed.”
When Colorado and Washington voters approved statewide ballot initiatives in 2012, states started decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana usage for recreational purposes. 17 other states did the same during the following ten years. These states have long functioned in defiance of federal regulations that have kept drug use severely prohibited.
The U.S. House approved legislation earlier this year to legalize marijuana on a federal level, but the Senate rejected the measure.
The legislation, which would reconcile federal law with states where recreational marijuana is legal, was approved by the House by a vote of 220-204. Three Republicans joined all but two Democrats in backing the plan.
Positive responses from Democratic legislators followed Biden’s remarks, and some demanded full legalization.
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, claimed that marijuana-related federal drug regulations had hurt communities of color and ripped families apart.
In a statement, she stated that “these revolutionary acts are the latest indication of Democrats’ unwavering commitment to justice, especially for those wrongfully victimized by cannabis illegality.”
U.S. Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado tweeted, “This is a big step toward justice.” “We must now make it legal across the country.”
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia remarked, “A terrific first step for equal treatment under the law — but we can and we will do more when we (increase) our Democratic majorities in November.”
U.S. Senator from Oregon and Democrat Cory Booker, as well as Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, praised the decision in a statement and called for the passage of a bill that would take marijuana off the list of controlled substances and expunge the records of anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime.
Cannabis should be descheduled, he added, and a federal regulated framework should be established to safeguard public health and safety. “Legal rights for victims of the War on Drugs should be written in law,” the politician said. “I have the bill to pass it, together with Leader Schumer, Senator Booker, and myself. I’m excited to collaborate with President Biden to push sensible cannabis reform and expand on the current momentum.
Schumer referred to the measure as “historic” and expressed his hope that it would spur more congressional action.
In a statement, the New York Democrat said that “for far too long, the federal ban of cannabis and the War on Drugs has been a war on people, and particularly people of color.” “President Biden’s decision to pardon anyone found guilty under federal law of simple marijuana possession is a big step forward to reverse decades of overcriminalization,”
Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement that locking up people for marijuana possession is a waste of government funds and does not make communities safer.
He argued that rather than spending the money on efforts that don’t truly reduce crime or save money, we need to use it on projects that do.
Republicans were far less vocal about the decision than Democrats, which is consistent with how most Americans feel about marijuana. In a recent MorningConsult/Politico survey, 60% of participants endorsed legalization.
Republicans who did comment portrayed the proposal as being lax on crime. In the elections coming up in a month, Republicans will focus on the topic of growing crime rates.
Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, wrote on Twitter, “In the middle of a crime boom and on the verge of a recession, Joe Biden is handing blanket pardons to drug criminals – many of whom bargained down from more serious crimes.” The tweet was originally about pardons for “pot heads,” but it was removed after nine minutes.
Asa Hutchinson, the retiring governor of Arkansas, said in a statement that each criminal should be considered individually and that the Justice Department shouldn’t grant “blanket pardons.” Under President George W. Bush, Hutchinson oversaw the Drug Enforcement Administration.
He said, “As Governor, I have pardoned hundreds of those who have been found guilty of narcotics charges.” But with the current increase in crime, there should be a strong record of law-abiding behavior before pardons are granted.
Hutchinson, who has openly opposed the proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a legal marijuana regime in Arkansas and is adamantly anti-legalization.
Candidates running for Congress soon voiced their opinions about the move, with Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman calling it “a tremendous step towards justice” in a statement.
The outlawing of this plant has “derailed too many lives, and lives of Black and Brown Americans in especially,” according to Fetterman.
On his congressional Twitter account, Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who is competing for the vacant Senate seat, tweeted “legalize it.”
Marijuana will likely continue to be categorized as a Schedule 1 narcotic for the foreseeable future until Congress modifies the federal marijuana regulations or the president takes additional action.
Senior administration officials stated on Thursday that it will take some time for the HHS secretary and attorney general to determine whether marijuana should remain in the DEA’s system’s highest classification or be moved to a lesser category.
The senior administration official explained that while Biden hasn’t established a deadline, he wants the review to be “expeditious.” “The process will take some time, because it must be based on a careful consideration of all of the available evidence, including scientific… and medical information that’s available,” the official said.
The DEA categorizes drugs into five schedules, with Schedule 1 being those having a high potential for misuse and no known medicinal applications. Along with marijuana, Schedule 1 narcotics include heroin, LSD, and peyote.
According to the DEA, Schedule 2 substances are those with a high potential for misuse and those that can cause “severe psychological or physical dependency.” Currently, Schedule 2 drugs include oxycodone, cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and methamphetamine.
Anabolic steroids and testosterone are examples of drugs in Schedule 3 that have a low to moderate potential of leading to physical and psychological dependency. According to the DEA, Schedule 4 contains pharmaceuticals with a minimal risk for misuse, including Xanax, Valium, and Ambien. Additionally, Schedule 5 contains drugs that are less likely to be abused than Schedule 4 does.