Biden Pardons All Federal Simple Marijuana Possession Offenses

Photo by ryan lange on Unsplash

President Joe Biden took the first steps towards decriminalizing marijuana and fulfilled a campaign promise on Thursday by pardoning all prior offenses of simple marijuana possession. The move will affect thousands of Americans across the US. During the announcement, Biden also urged governors to take similar steps at the state level.

“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said. “It’s legal in many states, and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences. While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

While this move stops short of full decriminalization, they are the first step. Biden has now tasked the Department of Health and Human Services and Attorney General Merrick Garland to review the possibility of easing marijuana’s federal classification. Currently, it is placed in the same category as hard drugs such as heroin and LSD; this would be a first step towards easing that classification, which could make full decriminalization easier. However, though Biden ordered the review be completed “expeditiously,” senior officials were unwilling to say how quickly the review might be completed.

“The process will take some time because it must be based on a careful consideration of all the available evidence, including scientific and medical information that’s available.”

There has been a growing push nationwide to loosen federal regulations on marijuana as states have moved to legalize it. In 2020, a bill to decriminalize marijuana passed the House but was not voted on in the then-Republican-controlled Senate. Federal criminalization has left some users at risk of prosecution even in areas where marijuana use is legal.

Although there are currently no Americans serving prison time solely based on federal simple marijuana possession, the number of people who have been charged with that crime is over 6,500.

In Louisiana, any possession of 14 grams or less of marijuana does not carry a jail sentence, however, possession of more than 14 grams but less than 2.5 lbs can result in up to eight years in prison, depending on your number of offenses:

  • First offense – 6 months
  • Second offense – 6 months
  • Third offense – 2 years
  • Fourth offense – 8 years

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden said. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

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