WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of Americans convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana under federal law, as his administration takes dramatic steps toward decriminalizing the drug and tackling charging practices that disproportionately impact people of color.
Biden’s move also covers thousands of people convicted of crimes in the District of Columbia. He also asked governors to issue similar pardons for those convicted of state marijuana offenses, which mirror most marijuana possession cases.
Biden, in a statement, said the move reflected his position that “no one should be imprisoned simply for using or possessing marijuana.”
“Too many lives have been lost because of our failed approach to cannabis. It is time we correct this mistake.”
According to the White House, no one is currently in federal prison solely for “simple possession” of the drug, but the pardon could help thousands of people overcome barriers to renting a home or finding work.
“There are thousands of people who have previously been convicted by the federal government of marijuana possession, who as a result may have been denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities,” he said. “My actions will help mitigate the collateral consequences arising from this belief.”
Biden also directed the secretary of Health and Human Services and the US attorney general to review how marijuana is slated under federal law. Rescheduling drugs will reduce or potentially eliminate criminal penalties for possession.
But Biden said he believes that as the federal government and many states relax marijuana laws, they should maintain restrictions on the trafficking, marketing and sale of minors.
Biden’s move puts the federal government on par with other major cities like New York which have been moving toward decriminalizing low-level marijuana arrests for years. But there is a huge divide in the country as some police departments still believe that drugs lead to more serious crimes and ignoring low-level offences makes criminals brave.
The move also fulfills one of the top priorities of the Democratic nominee in one of their party’s most critical Senate elections, as Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has repeatedly pressured Biden to take the step.
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