By Sam Reisman | December 22, 2023, 1:14 PM EST · Listen to article
President Joe Biden on Friday announced unconditional pardons to anyone who has used, possessed or attempted to possess marijuana on federal lands, regardless of whether they have been convicted or charged.
The proclamation comes as the Department of Justice is considering a recommendation from federal health regulators whether to loosen restrictions on marijuana, and it marks an extension of Biden’s pardons in 2022 of federal offenders convicted of simple marijuana possession.
“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities,” Biden said in a statement. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
The announcement has no effect on more serious marijuana offenses, such as possession with intent to sell or driving under the influence of marijuana. The pardons also will not be extended to noncitizens who were not lawfully in the country at the time of their offense.
The pardons only affect individuals whose offenses took place in the District of Columbia and other lands under the jurisdiction of federal law. However, the vast majority of arrests and convictions for simple possession and use of marijuana have taken place at the local and state level.
“Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” Biden said. “That’s why I continue to urge governors to do the same with regard to state offenses and applaud those who have since taken action.”
It is unlikely that a single person will be released from federal prison as a result of Friday’s proclamation, but the announcement will still affect thousands for whom the charges or past convictions still obstruct employment and housing opportunities.
As of January 2022, there were no prisoners in federal custody sentenced solely for simple marijuana possession, according to a recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
The same report found that the number of federal offenders sentenced for simple marijuana possession is relatively low and has been declining for the past decade, from 2,172 in fiscal year 2014 to 145 in fiscal year 2021.
The DOJ’s Drug Enforcement Administration is currently considering a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services to move marijuana from the highly restrictive Schedule I tier under the Controlled Substances Act to the less stringent Schedule III.
Also on Friday, the president announced clemency to 11 offenders currently serving sentences for nonviolent drug offenses connected with the sale of harder drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
–Editing by Robert Rudinger.