President Joe Biden has pardoned all Americans who have been convicted at the national level of possessing small amounts of marijuana. Officials estimate that approximately 6,500 people with federal convictions for simple marijuana possession will benefit.
No one is currently in federal prison solely for possession of marijuana. Most convictions occur at state level. But the federal pardons will make it easier for people to get employment, housing, and education, Mr. Biden said. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Biden promised to decriminalise cannabis use, as well as expunging convictions.
“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday.
He went on to say that non-white people were statistically far more likely to be imprisoned for cannabis possession. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Biden was chastised for authoring a 1994 crime bill that increased penalties for drug offences and led to more incarceration of minorities.
The Democratic president said he would call upon all state governors to issue their own marijuana pardons.
He has also directed the Departments of Justice and Health to examine how cannabis is classified under federal law. “We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and at a higher level than fentanyl,” Mr. Biden said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Marijuana for recreational use is already legal in 19 states and Washington, DC. In 37 states and three US territories, medical marijuana is legal.
However, the drug remains illegal at the federal level, even in states where it can be legally purchased and used, which means that people in those states could still be convicted of possession under certain conditions.
The pardons come just a month before the congressional midterm elections in November, which will determine the power balance in Washington for the final two years of Mr. Biden’s presidency.
Life for Pot, a website that advocates for the release of nonviolent marijuana offenders, tweeted that there are no known federal prisoners who will be affected by Mr. Biden’s measure, adding, “This is window dressing.”
With the news of Mr. Biden’s pardons, cannabis company shares increased by around 20% on the stock market.
Mr. Biden is not the first US president to grant amnesty to marijuana offenders.
On his final day in office, Donald Trump pardoned 12 marijuana offenders, including some who had been sentenced to life in prison under Mr. Biden’s 1994 crime bill’s three-strikes rule.
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