Slowly but surely, President Joe Biden is keeping his promises to his voters. He has now announced a three-step plan to decriminalize marijuana.
Biden’s campaign has pushed the narrative that nobody should be in jail or face jail time for the possession of marijuana. In the past people convicted of possession have faced barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities, as they been charged as a felony.
“First, I am announcing a pardon of all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana. I have directed the attorney general to develop an administrative process for issuing certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.” Biden said as he explained the first part of his plan. “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.”
When then-President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in the 1970’s, the majority Black and Brown neighborhoods were affected most by marijuana laws. This highlighted racial inequality and increased the mass incarceration crisis.
From 1970 to 2020, nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related offenses, with 80% in federal prison and 60% in state prison being Black or Latino. Since the legalization of marijuana in 2018, only 92 people have been paroled for simple marijuana offenses out of nearly 20,000 drug convictions.
“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a video announcing his executive actions. “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.”
Biden’s opinions on marijuana charges have changed over the years as he spent time as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate working on crime bills. Now while he is decriminalizing marijuana, specific rules will stay in place.
“Even as federal and local regulations of marijuana change, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales should stay in place,” he said.
The second part of Biden’s plan is urging all governors to do the same concerning state offenses. “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,” Biden said. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, even as individual states have moved toward legal use for recreational and medical purposes.
The final part of his plan is asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review how marijuana is ranked under federal law. Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification for the most dangerous substances. This is the same schedule for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine, the drugs that are driving the overdose epidemic.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” said Biden.