US President Joe Biden on Thursday pardoned thousands of Americans convicted of marijuana possession in a major new step to destigmatize the drug — fulfilling a promise to his supporters a month before the midterm elections.
“I announce a pardon for all previous federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana,” Biden said.
Biden did not call for full decriminalization of cannabis, saying that “restrictions on trafficking, marketing and sale to minors should remain.”
Instead, he was in possession of a substance that state health officials estimated was being used by at least 18 percent of the population in 2019 – and which is already approved by several state governments for recreational or medicinal purposes.
In addition to the pardons, Biden directed the Departments of Justice and Health to consider whether cannabis should be classified as a less dangerous substance.
Officials told reporters that about 6,500 people are directly affected by convictions under federal marijuana laws. The pardon will extend to thousands more convicts in the federal capital, Washington.
But Biden’s gesture is aimed at pushing the shift much further and pressuring state agencies everywhere to follow suit.
“I urge all governors to do the same on state misconduct. Just as no one should be in a federal prison just for possession of marijuana, neither should anyone be in a local jail or state prison for that reason,” Biden said.
– Political effect –
The move was announced abruptly via video and in a written statement, without prior White House preparation.
But the ramifications are expected to be significant, both legally and politically, allowing Biden to pick up the narrative on a trend toward decriminalization that parts of the country have already embraced.
Ahead of the Nov. 8 midterms, with his Democrats struggling to maintain even partial control of Congress, Biden has now met a key demand from racial justice activists who are angry at how cannabis law enforcement often falls targeting ethnic minorities.
“As I have said many times during my presidential campaign, no one should be in prison solely for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to jail for possession of marijuana has turned too many lives upside down and incarcerated people for behavior that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said.
He noted that people of color are disproportionately affected by marijuana possession convictions, which, in addition to sometimes jail time, can carry years of legal ramifications and create difficulties in finding jobs and education.
The third measure announced was a directive for federal health and justice officials to “expeditiously review marijuana intake under federal laws.”
Currently, federal law throws marijuana alongside narcotics widely classified as far more dangerous, such as heroin and LSD. It is higher in one group than the relatively modern — and hugely addictive — drugs fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Senate leader Chuck Schumer, a key Biden ally who is fighting to keep the chamber under Democratic control in November, said the president’s move recognizes that the so-called “war on drugs” is “a war against people, and particularly against people of.” Colour.”
Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, a leading civil rights organization, said on Twitter, “We applaud President Biden.”
“Correcting inequalities — including marijuana reform — has been a priority for the NAACP for decades.”