Biden makes thousands convicted on marijuana charges eligible for pardon

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U.S. President Joe Biden is making thousands of people who were convicted of use and simple possession of marijuana on federal lands and in the District of Columbia eligible for pardons, the White House said Friday, in his latest round of executive clemencies meant to rectify racial disparities in the justice system.

The categorical pardon on Friday builds on a similar round issued just before the 2022 midterm elections that made thousands convicted of simple possession on federal lands eligible for pardons. Friday’s action includes additional criminal offences to those eligible for a pardon, making even more people eligible to have their convictions expunged.

Biden is also granting clemency to 11 people serving what the White House called “disproportionately long” sentences for nonviolent drug offences.

Biden, in a statement, said his actions would help make the “promise of equal justice a reality.”

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities,” Biden said. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

Biden’s order applies only to marijuana, which has been decriminalized or legalized in many states for some or all uses, but remains a controlled substance under federal law. (David Donnelly/CBC)

No one was freed from prison under last year’s action, but the pardons were meant to help thousands overcome obstacles to renting a home or finding a job. Similarly, no federal prisoners are eligible for release as a result of Friday’s action.

Legal in many states

Biden’s order applies only to marijuana, which has been decriminalized or legalized in many states for some or all uses, but remains a controlled substance under federal law. U.S. regulators are studying reclassifying the drug from the category of drugs deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” known as “Schedule I,” to the less tightly regulated “Schedule III.”

The pardon also does not apply to those in the U.S. unlawfully at the time of their offence.

Those eligible can submit applications to the Justice Department’s pardon attorney office, which issues certificates of pardon.

Biden on Friday reiterated his call on governors and local leaders to take similar steps to erase marijuana convictions.

“Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” Biden said.



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