President Biden is pardoning all previous federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana, the White House announced Thursday, although senior officials stressed to reporters that there are currently no people in federal prisons solely for simple possession of marijuana. The president is also asking the secretary of Health and Human Services to review how marijuana is classified under federal law.
In addition, the president is urging all governors to pardon state felonies for simple possession of marijuana. Liberals have long pushed Mr. Biden to legalize cannabis. The announcement, which is missing legalizationis just a month away from competitive midterm elections that will determine control of the House and Senate.
“As I often said during my presidential campaign, no one should be in prison just for using or possessing marijuana,” the president said in a statement. “Sending people to prison for possession of marijuana has upended too many lives and imprisoned people for behavior that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for possession of marijuana have also imposed unnecessary barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while whites, blacks and browns use marijuana at similar rates, blacks and browns are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
The president said he has directed Attorney General Merrick Garland to develop a process to issue certificates of pardon to eligible Americans, a move that will help ease the consequences for those who could be denied housing or work. It also asks HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to review and reconsider the classification of marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, a classification reserved for the most dangerous substances.
“This is the same schedule as heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine — the drugs that are causing the overdose epidemic,” the president said.
The president still wants restrictions on the trafficking, marketing and sales of weed to minors to remain in place.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Mr. Biden said. “It is time to right these wrongs.”
Moving away from criminalizing marijuana possession is a change for Mr. Biden. As vice president, strongly opposed the drug. In 2010, he told ABC News, “I still think it’s a gateway drug” and legalizing it would be “a mistake.”
— Gaby Ake contributed to this report. This is a developing story.