President Biden pardons thousands convicted of bhang possession
US President Joe Biden has pardoned thousands of Americans convicted of marijuana possession, fulfilling a promise to his supporters a month before midterm elections.
President Biden did not call for fully decriminalising cannabis, adding that “limitations on trafficking, marketing and under-age sales should stay in place”.
Instead, he homed in individual possession of a substance that the government health authorities estimate was used by at least 18 per cent of the population in 2019 – and which is already permitted by multiple state governments for recreational or medical purposes.
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“I am announcing a pardon of all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana,” President Biden said.
In addition to the pardons, President Biden has instructed the departments of justice and health to determine whether cannabis should be reclassified as a less dangerous substance.
Officials told reporters that about 6,500 people are directly affected by convictions under federal marijuana statutes. Clemency will extend to thousands more convicted under laws in the federal capital, Washington.
Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. Hear from @POTUS on the three steps he is taking to right these wrongs. pic.twitter.com/IqOxHxjgue
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) October 6, 2022
However, President Biden’s gesture aims to take the shift much further, putting pressure on state authorities everywhere to follow suit.
“I am urging all governors to do the same with regard to 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,” President Biden said.
The move was announced abruptly by video and in a written statement, with no previous build-up by the White House.
However, the impact is expected to be significant, both legally and politically, allowing President Biden to seize the narrative on a trend toward decriminalisation that swaths of the country have already embraced.
Ahead of the November8, midterms, where his Democrats are struggling to hold onto even partial control of Congress, President Biden has now satisfied a key demand from racial justice activists angered at the way enforcement of cannabis laws often targets ethnic minorities.
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“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,” the President said.
He noted that non-white people are disproportionately affected by marijuana possession convictions, which in addition to sometimes including jail time can unleash years of legal fallout, creating difficulties in getting work and education.
The third measure announced was an instruction for federal health and justice officials to “review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law”.
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Currently, federal law classifies marijuana alongside what are widely accepted to be far more dangerous narcotics, such as heroin and LSD. It is in a group higher than the relatively modern – and hugely addictive – drugs fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Senate leader Chuck Schumer, a key ally of Mr Biden who is fighting to try and keep the chamber under Democratic control in November, said the president’s move recognised that the so-called “war on drugs” has been “a war on people and particularly people of colour”.
Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, a leading civil rights organisation, said on Twitter: “We applaud President Biden.”
“Correcting unequal treatment – including marijuana reform – has been a priority issue for the NAACP for decades.”