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Biden announces pardon of all federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana

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Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Thursday said he will issue an executive order pardoning all people with federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana.

"No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana," Biden said in a statement announcing major action that could impact thousands of Americans.

"Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit," Biden said. "Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates."

The president said he will take three steps to end the federal government's "failed approach" to policing marijuana. The actions he outlined would be the most extensive act by any White House on drug policy in U.S. history.

First, Biden will issue a blanket pardon to anyone convicted of criminal simple possession of marijuana in violation of federal law. He has directed Attorney General Merrick Garland to prepare to issue certificates of pardon to all eligible individuals.

"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," Biden said.

Second, the president is calling for state governors to follow suit and issue pardons for criminal and civil marijuana 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.

Third, the president will direct the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to "review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law."

The government currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic, defined as drugs like heroin and LSD that have no accepted medical use and a high potential for addiction and abuse.

Federal arrests for marijuana-related offenses have declined in recent years, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The Justice Department reported making 2,575 marijuana-related arrests in 2020. The annual total of marijuana arrests has declined steadily each year since 2010, when the agency reported making 8,215 such arrests.

While calling for marijuana possession to effectively be decriminalized, the president added that "important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place."

"Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana," Biden said. "It’s time that we right these wrongs."

TheBlaze has reached out to the Department of Justice requesting an estimate of how many people will receive a pardon under the president's executive action.

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