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On Thursday, the White House announced President Biden has pardoned all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession.
According to CNBC, the pardons also apply to anyone in the District of Columbia convicted of simple possession of marijuana, a senior administration official told reporters.
More than 6,500 individuals with prior convictions for simple marijuana possession will be impacted by the pardons, said the official, and thousands more will be pardoned under D.C. law.
According to the ACLU’s original analysis, marijuana arrests now account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana and many arrested have been African American.
Nationwide, the arrest data revealed significant racial bias. Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than Whites to be arrested for marijuana.
“There are thousands of people who were convicted for marijuana possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result,” Biden said in a statement. “My pardon will remove this burden on them.”
In addition to the pardons, Biden said he had instructed Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to begin reviewing how marijuana is classified under federal drug laws.
“The federal government currently classifies marijuana as a “schedule one” substance, the same as heroin and LSD – and more serious than fentanyl,” said Biden. “It makes no sense.”
On average, a recent study found recreational cannabis legalization seems to be associated with reductions in prescription drug utilization for depression (-11 percent), anxiety (-12 percent), pain (-8 percent), seizures (-10 percent), psychosis (-11 percent) and sleep (-11 percent).
The White House states, “As the President has said repeatedly, including when running for office, no one should be in jail solely for using or possessing marijuana. There are too many people serving long sentences for non-violent drug crimes. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, a disproportionate number of people arrested and convicted are Black and brown.”
According to the White House, “Arrests and jail sentences for conduct that is now legal in many states has upended lives, and needlessly held people back from stable housing, a good job, and an education.”
Since 2012, 18 states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for adults over the age of 21. In addition, 38 states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana — meaning that a majority of Americans have access to cannabis, whether medically or recreationally.
President Biden will also encourage governors to take similar steps to pardon state simple marijuana possession charges, and will task the Department of Health and Human Services and Attorney General Merrick Garland to “expeditiously” review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.
The moves stop short of full decriminalization, but it remains a first and significant step taken by a US president toward removing criminal penalties for possessing marijuana.
First he is announcing a full and unconditional pardon of all prior federal offenses for simple possession of marijuana by U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. This pardon will help thousands with prior convictions seeking housing, employment, benefits, and educational opportunities who are currently ineligible based on federal statutory or regulatory bars on individuals with prior drug convictions.
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