Biden Announces He Will Pardon Marijuana Possession Offenses, Orders Review of Scheduling Status

President Joe BidenPresident Joe Biden announced he intends to pardon anyone with a federal conviction for marijuana possession, directing AG Garland to develop a procedure for clearing the records of an estimated 6500 Americans carrying past convictions. While the move will not release anyone currently in prison for federal marijuana sales or cultivation convictions, it will help remove barriers to employment, housing, or educational opportunities for those carrying past possession convictions on their records.

“The Justice Department will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted of that offense,” the DOJ said in a statement. “In coming days, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will begin implementing a process to provide impacted individuals with certificates of pardon.”

The President in a series of tweetsa video, and a proclamation noted the racial disparity in marijuana arrests, and called on Governors to also pardon state marijuana offenses; North Carolina’s governor has already announced he plans to do so.

For nearly two years, NORML has called upon the Administration to fulfill the President’s campaign promise to provide relief to those stigmatized with a low-level cannabis conviction. We thank of our supporters who have taken action towards this important first step for justice.

HHS Review of Marijuana’s Scheduling Status Ordered

As part of his announcement, Biden called for former CA AG Xavier Becerra, now head of HHS, along with the Attorney General, to conduct a review of marijuana’s Schedule I status. “The federal government currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, the same heroin and LSD, and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense,” Biden said.

“I think you’re going to find that we’re going to move as quickly as we can but, at the end of the day science is going to take us to a solution,” Becerra told reporters in Tampa. “The president was very clear—he wants this done as quickly as possible. It’s not new science, but there’s lot of information to gather because in many states marijuana has been legalized for either medical purposes or recreational purposes.” Becerra also tweeted, “Looking forward to working with Attorney General Garland to answer @POTUS’ call to action to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” NORML has been calling for marijuana’s rescheduling for decades.

California Officials Respond

Several government officials from California responded to the news, many of them calling for further steps, including federal marijuana legalization. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-SF), issued a statement saying in part, “Today is a day of hope and healing, as President Biden takes historic steps to reform America’s approach to marijuana. These transformative actions are the latest manifestation of Democrats’ unyielding commitment to justice, especially for those unfairly harmed by cannabis criminalization.

CA Attorney General Rob Bonta tweeted, “In the Legislature, I worked to ensure Californians with outdated cannabis convictions would see their records cleared, and I’m proud to help fulfill that promise as AG.” While in the state legislature, Bonta successfully championed a bill, AB 1793, to automate the expungement and resentencing process for past marijuana crimes provided for in California’s Prop. 64. A 2022 bill from Mia Bonta set deadlines for county courts to act for record clearance, and establishes oversight for the process. Read more.

Other officials tweeting responses included Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Alex Becerra, plus Congresspersons Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Ro Khanna (D-San Jose), Nora Torres (D-Pomona), Sara Jacobs (D-Del Mar), Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), and John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove). State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) and Assemblywoman Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) also tweeted their support. (See Cal NORML’s twitter feed to read the tweets.)

Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton issued a statement noting that two years ago she petitioned state court to withdraw guilty pleas or charges and dismiss the cases of 3,264 people in Contra Costa County for marijuana convictions. On October 1, Becton was presented with CoCo NORML’s inaugural Cannabis Justice Award, acknowledging her leadership in expunging prior cannabis convictions in Contra Costa County.

Cal NORML Responds

Cal NORML’s Deputy Director Ellen Komp was interviewed on KNX radio in LA​ and CBS’s Channel 8 in San Diego about the Biden announcement.

California’s cannabis industry would receive a boost if marijuana were to be re-scheduled, as cannabis companies would be able to access interstate markets and no longer face steep federal tax penalties that can eat up profits, cannabis industry consultant and Cal NORML board member Hirsh Jain told the Sacramento Bee.

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