WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana under federal law, as his administration moves toward legalizing the drug and addressing the impact on people of color The disproportionate fee approach is a dramatic step.
Biden’s move also covers thousands of people convicted in the District of Columbia. He also called on the governor to issue similar pardons for those convicted of state marijuana offenses, which reflect the vast majority of marijuana possession cases.
In a statement, Biden said the move reflected his position that “no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.”
“Too many lives have been turned upside down because of our failed approach to cannabis,” he added. “It’s time to rectify these mistakes.”
According to the White House, no one is currently being held in federal prison just for “simple possession” of the drug, but a pardon could help thousands overcome barriers to renting or finding a job.
“There are tens of thousands of people who have been convicted of marijuana possession by the federal government who could be deprived of employment, housing or educational opportunities,” he said. “My actions will help mitigate the collateral consequences of these convictions.”
The pardon does not include convictions for possession of other drugs, or charges related to the production or possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Biden also did not pardon noncitizens who had no legal status in the United States when they were arrested.
The announcement marks Biden’s assessment of the impact of the 1994 crime legislation he backed, which increased arrest and incarceration rates for drug offenses, especially for blacks and Latinos.
The Justice Department is working to devise a process for those covered by the Biden amnesty to obtain a certificate of pardon, which they can present to potential employers and others as needed.
“The Department of Justice will expeditiously implement the President’s Proclamation, which will pardon those individuals who possess pure marijuana and restore the political, civil and other rights of those found guilty,” the department said in a statement. Today, the Pardon Prosecutor’s Office will begin a process to provide proof of pardon to affected individuals.”
Biden also directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Attorney General to review how marijuana is organized under federal law. Rescheduling the drug will reduce or potentially eliminate criminal penalties for possession. Cannabis is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, tied with heroin and LSD, but ahead of fentanyl and methamphetamine. The White House has not set a timetable for the review.
But Biden said he believes that as the federal government and many states relax marijuana laws, they should maintain restrictions on trafficking, marketing and sales to minors.
Biden’s move puts the federal government on track with other major cities like New York, which have struggled for years to legalize low-level marijuana arrests. But the nation is divided, as some police departments still believe the drug leads to more serious crimes and that ignoring low-level crimes emboldens criminals.
Advocacy groups praised Biden’s statement, and Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Coalition, said the group was “excited.”
“It’s really late,” Frederick said. “There’s no reason to burden people with criminal records — preventing them from getting jobs, housing, and countless other opportunities — because it’s legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and decriminalized in 31 states.”
It remains to be seen whether governors will follow Biden’s lead. Expanding the action to states could help millions of Americans, said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform.
“Since 1965, nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related offenses — activities that most voters no longer believe should be criminalized,” he said.
Chris Goldstein, 46, was arrested in 2013 after smoking half a stick of marijuana during a marijuana legalization protest in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. He paid a $3,000 fine and was placed on probation for two years.
“As someone who voted for President Biden, I’ve been looking forward to that since his first day in office,” Goldstein said. “It’s a campaign promise.”
As a writer and activist who has spoken out about his convictions, he’s not sure if his criminal record will hinder him from getting a job, but he knows it will show up in his background checks. He avoided visiting other countries because a conviction would complicate international travel.
“I’m excited, and everyone like me will be equally excited,” he said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said Biden’s “just actions today will bring the lives of countless Americans back.” But he added, “America will never justly legalize marijuana until it takes into account Outdated policies that equated thousands of young black men with die-hard drug dealers.”
The move also satisfies one of the top priorities for Democratic candidates in one of the Democratic Party’s most crucial Senate races, as Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Feltman has repeatedly urged Biden to take the step, including last month when they were in Pittsburgh. when meeting.
In a statement, Feltman praised Biden for bringing the issue to the agenda and praised the decision, calling it “a giant step toward justice.”
“This action by President Biden is exactly what this job is supposed to do: improve people’s lives. I applaud the President for taking this important, necessary and just step to right wrong and improve the lives of millions of Americans,” he said. Say.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed.