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Biden announces sweeping pardon of federal marijuana possession convictions

President calls on governors to do the same at state level

The north front of the White House is seen through the security fence in Washington on Thursday.
The north front of the White House is seen through the security fence in Washington on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden is pardoning people with federal convictions for marijuana possession, including those convicted under Washington, D.C., law.

“I’m announcing a pardon of all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana. There are thousands of people who were convicted for marijuana possession who may be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities as a result,” Biden said in a video. “My pardon will remove this burden on them.”

More than 6,500 U.S. citizens have prior federal convictions from 1992 to 2021, and thousands of people who were convicted under D.C. law might be affected by this executive action. The pardon applies to anyone who has been convicted of marijuana possession under federal law.

“We can’t do it alone. The president is calling on governors to take this action as well,” a senior administration official told reporters, noting that the vast majority of marijuana possession convictions are state convictions.

The president also said he would be seeking a federal review of the scheduling of marijuana, which is currently a “Schedule I” substance, similar to heroin or LSD and even higher than fetanyl.

“I’m asking the secretary of Health and Human Services and the attorney general to initiate the process to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. And even as federal and local regulations of marijuana change, important limitations on trafficking, marketing and underage sales should stay in place,” the president said in the video message.

“No one should be in jail for marijuana usage or possession alone. It has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that is legal in many states,” another senior administration official said, noting that while rates of cannabis use are very similar for white people and people of color, Black and brown Americans are incarcerated at a much higher rate.

Biden’s move comes a few weeks before November’s midterm elections, when voters will decide whether Republicans or Democrats will control the House and Senate, as well as a slew of state-level offices.

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