Biden pardons thousands convicted of marijuana possession

President urges state governors to follow his lead as he calls for end to ‘failed approach’

US president Joe Biden is to introduce a pardon for people convicted at federal level for simple possession of marijuana.

He is also urging governors in states across the country to put in place similar measures at local level in what is being seen as a significant step towards decriminalisation.

Mr Biden, speaking late on Thursday, said he wanted to end the “failed approach” to marijuana.

The president also wants his administration to carry out an expedited review of whether marijuana should continue to be officially listed as a schedule one substance. He said this classification was meant for the most dangerous drugs such as heroin and LSD.

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

However, he said that even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changed, “important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales should stay in place.”

The statement by the president on Thursday was in keeping with a promise he made as a candidate for the White House in 2020.

The federal pardon announced by Mr Biden could affect thousands of people who have convictions for marijuana possession.

“As I often said during my campaign for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

Mr Biden said he had directed the US attorney general to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon at federal level to eligible individuals.

“There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”

The president said he was also calling on governors in states across the country to follow his lead by introducing pardons for marijuana possession in their jurisdictions.

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

Mr Biden said he was wanted his Attorney General and secretary of health and human services to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana was scheduled under federal law.

“Federal law currently classifies marijuana in schedule I of the controlled substances act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances. This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine — the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic”, he said.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent