President Biden granted pardons for additional marijuana offenses on Friday, building on actions he took last year. The new proclamation will pardon those convicted of possession when apprehended on “certain federal lands.”
The pardon states it will affect “additional offenses of simple possession and use of marijuana under federal and D.C. law,” President Biden said in a statement. “Use and possession on certain Federal lands” were not covered by Biden’s previous pardons issued in 2022. While it is unclear how many people will be affected by this latest proclamation, it aligns with Biden’s continued effort to eradicate cannabis use convictions.
“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” the President said in his statement. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
In addition to pardoning offenses committed on federal land, President Biden also commuted the prison sentences of eleven people convicted of non-violent drug-related crimes on Friday.
“Due to reforms, each of these clemency recipients would have been eligible for reduced sentences, had they been sentenced today,” a White House official said in an email. “This clemency grant represents the President’s commitment to addressing unjustified disparities in sentencing.”
Prior to last week, Biden most recently granted clemency to 31 people convicted of drug-related offenses last April. In October 2022, President Biden granted executive pardons to thousands of individuals with prior convictions for marijuana possession under federal law. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised that he would work toward the goal of automatic expungement of cannabis use convictions.
In addition, the President has continued to encourage state officials and governors to echo his actions. Thirty-eight states now legally allow the use of marijuana in some form, while 24 states have entirely legalized the drug for recreational use. In accordance with these changing attitudes towards marijuana, the Department of Health and Human Services recently recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration ease its marijuana restrictions. The DEA currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the same category as highly addictive substances like heroin. Biden noted in his statement that this means marijuana is classified as a more dangerous substance than fentanyl, which has been a significant driver in the nation’s opioid crisis. More than 100,000 Americans were killed by fentanyl overdoses in 2022 alone.
The Department of Health and Human Services advocated for changing marijuana to a Schedule III drug this August, which would represent a considerable change in federal drug policy. While the proposal would be a significant departure from previous marijuana policies, it would align with the current cultural climate. CBD products are steadily becoming more mainstream, and medical marijuana and CBD treatments are routinely prescribed by doctors for chronic pain, among other afflictions. Many see marijuana as a safe alternative to painkillers, which can be highly addictive and dangerous for long-term consumption.
There has been little progress on legalizing marijuana at a federal level. Congress passed a law last year to facilitate research on medical marijuana, but previous attempts at legalizing the drug have failed to pass through the Senate. Recent polls indicate that the majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, but by a small margin.