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Biden Issues Pardon for Federal Marijuana Possession Charges

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Biden Issues Pardon for Federal Marijuana Possession Charges

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A series of announcements Thursday afternoon suggested that major changes are coming in how the law handles marijuana possession.

First came a bombshell declaration: pardoning any simple federal possession charge of marijuana.

“There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result,” tweeted the official White House account. “My pardon will remove this burden.”

He called on governors to do the same for state-level crimes. He then called for a move that could have far-reaching consequences.

“We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense,” he tweeted. “I’m asking [Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra] and the Attorney General to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”

He also instructed the Attorney General to “develop and announce application procedures for certificates of pardon and to begin accepting applications in accordance with such procedures as soon as reasonably practicable."

The Shifting Legality of Marijuana

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug according to federal law. This classification has not changed since 1970. Other Schedule 1 drugs include LSD, ecstasy, peyote, psilocybin (mushrooms), bath sales, and heroin. Schedule 1 drugs are thought to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the DEA

A change in the federal classification of marijuana could mean that the drug would be legal or decriminalized in states that have not yet legalized it for recreational or medicinal use. It could be descheduled, rescheduled as a less harmful drug, or kept the same. 

While the drug is legal in 19 states, it has been illegal under federal law since 1937. It is legal for medicinal use in 39 states.

The phrasing at the top of Biden’s tweet thread indicates that changes could soon be coming to federal marijuana law.

“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” he said. “Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach.”

Biden also addressed the racial component of marijuana sentencing: while most racial groups use marijuana at the same rate, “Black and Brown people are arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionately higher rates.”

He also emphasized the need to remain strict with regard to limiting drug trafficking, marketing, and sales to underage people. 

What Does This Mean for People Convicted of Marijuana Possession?

According to NBC News, someone with the administration said that more than 6,500 U.S. citizens were convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law from 1992 — 2021, and that thousands more were convicted under a Washington, D.C. code. The same senior official said that currently there are no people in federal prisons solely due to simple marijuana possession. 

The official proclamation pardons U.S. residents who committed the offense of simple marijuana possession “on or before the date of this proclamation,” which was October 6, 2022. This means anyone charged with federal marijuana possession after that date would not be affected by this proclamation. It does, however, apply to currently pending charges if the offense occurred on or before October 6, 2022.

According to the Department of Justice, “A pardon is an expression of the President’s forgiveness. It does not signify innocence or expunge the conviction. It does, however, remove civil disabilities—such as restrictions on the right to vote, to hold office, or to sit on a jury—that are imposed because of the pardoned conviction. It may also be helpful in obtaining licenses, bonding, or employment.”

Biden has instructed the Attorney General to issue proof of pardon certificates to those who this proclamation applies to. An application process currently in the works will eventually allow people to request their certificate.

For more information about getting a marijuana crime reduced or what to do if the police want to search your car for drugs, contact a criminal defense attorney to learn more about your rights. 

Photo by 2H Media on Unsplash

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