President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that he is pardoning prior federal offenses for simple marijuana possession.
“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” the president said in a series of social media posts. “Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach.”
In a statement, the president said he has directed Attorney General Merrick Garland to develop the process to issue the pardons.
“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” he said.
“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.”
It was not immediately clear how many people would receive pardons from the president, though Biden noted that it would likely affect thousands.
Nineteen states, two U.S. territories and Washington have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Federally, the drug is classified among the most dangerous substances alongside heroin and LSD.
Biden said Thursday that he has directed officials to review this classification, which deems marijuana more dangerous than fentanyl or methamphetamine. Rescheduling the drug could reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for possession, The Associated Press reported.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” he said. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
The president called on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession convictions.
“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,” he said.
Not all lawmakers supported the executive action.
Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called Biden’s actions “a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership.”
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