Biden will pardon all federal felonies for simple possession of marijuana in the first major steps toward decriminalization


President Joe Biden is taking the first big steps toward decriminalizing marijuana, fulfilling a campaign promise to eliminate prior federal possession convictions and beginning the process of declassifying the drug.

On Thursday, Biden will pardon all previous federal felonies for simple possession of marijuana, a move that senior administration officials said would affect thousands of Americans charged with the crime.

The announcement comes ahead of critical November elections that will determine control of Congress. Some candidates – notably Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor John Fetterman, who is running for his state’s US Senate seat – have made the issue of legalizing marijuana central to their campaigns. When Fetterman and Biden met last month, the candidate said he would raise the issue with the president. At the same time, Democrats have sought to dismiss accusations that they are soft on crime, an issue that has risen to the top of voters’ agendas in some swing districts.

As part of the announcement, Biden also encouraged governors to take similar measures to pardon state marijuana possession offenses, a move that would affect thousands more Americans.

And the President will ask the Department of Health and Human Services and Attorney General Merrick Garland to “expeditiously” review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law, the first step in easing a federal classification that currently puts marijuana in the same category as heroin. the LSD

“No one should be in prison for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a video announcing his executive actions. “It’s legal in many states, and a criminal record for marijuana possession has created unnecessary barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And that’s before addressing the racial disparities in the consequences. While whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates, blacks and browns they are arrested, prosecuted and punished at disproportionate rates.

“Too many lives have been turned upside down because of our flawed approach to marijuana. It’s time to right those wrongs,” the president said.

The moves announced by Biden on Thursday fall short of full decriminalization, which has seen growing support across both political parties. But these are the first significant steps taken by a US president to decriminalize marijuana possession.

Senior administration officials declined to say how quickly the review, which would lead to further steps toward decriminalization, will be completed.

“The process will take some time as all available evidence needs to be carefully considered, including available scientific and medical information,” said a senior official.

In his statement, Biden wrote that some marijuana laws would remain in place even if the drug is phased out.

“Even if federal and local marijuana regulations change, important restrictions on trafficking, marketing and sales to minors should remain in place,” he said.

Under federal law, marijuana is illegal, although individual states have moved toward legalizing its use for recreational and medical purposes. Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is listed as Schedule 1, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

This has left some users open to prosecution, even where marijuana use is legal.

Biden’s pardons will be issued through an administrative process overseen by the Department of Justice, a senior administration official said. Those eligible for pardons would receive a certificate showing that their crime had been officially forgiven.

Officials say no Americans are currently serving prison time solely for the possession of federal marijuana. But they say the number charged with that crime is north of 6,500.

As a candidate, Biden did not support the legalization of recreational marijuana. But he took a position in favor of decriminalization.

“Nobody should be in jail for marijuana. As president, I will decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge previous convictions,” he said during the presidential campaign.

The loosening of federal regulations on marijuana has gained momentum in recent years as the drug is legalized in an increasing number of states. In late 2020, the House passed a measure that would have decriminalized marijuana at the federal level, though it failed to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.

This story has been updated with additional reports.