President Biden’s statement on marijuana reform

On Thursday (October 6) Vice President Joe Biden has issued pardons to thousands of Americans previously convicted of marijuana possession, clearing the way for possible rescheduling of the drug under US federal law.

In his 2020 campaign, Joe Biden promised to work to reduce criminal penalties for marijuana if elected. Ahead of November’s midterm elections, which will determine which party controls the US Congress, Biden’s move is likely to please his liberal and left-leaning supporters.

What exactly did Biden say?

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden issued a statement outlining three initiatives to overhaul America’s marijuana laws. Vice President Biden argued that the use and possession of marijuana should not result in criminal penalties.

“Sending people to prison for possession of marijuana has upended too many lives and imprisoned people for behavior that many states no longer prohibit,” he continued. Having a criminal record for possession of marijuana can make it challenging to find a job, a place to live, or go to school.

Those whose convictions include the promotion, distribution or sale of marijuana are not eligible for these clemency programs. Biden said in a tweet, “I would also like to note that as federal and state regulations change, we still need important restrictions on the trafficking, marketing and sales of marijuana by minors.”

The disproportionate number of black and brown people in the United States who are arrested for possession of marijuana was another issue Biden raised. His statement was something along the lines of, “While white, black, and brown people use marijuana at equal rates, black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at a disproportionate rate.”

How will Americans be affected?

To begin with, Biden announced a full amnesty for all federal marijuana possession convictions. He announced that the Attorney General has been ordered to establish a procedure for issuing pardons and other administrative relief to those who meet the requirements.

Vice President Biden stated, “There are thousands of people who have prior federal marijuana possession convictions and may be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities as a result.” The side effects of these convictions will be mitigated by my efforts.

    President Biden's statement on marijuana reform
President Biden’s statement on marijuana reform

To continue, Biden asked all state governors to commute the sentences of people whose only crime was possession of small amounts of marijuana. Just as no one should go to federal prison for possession of marijuana, no one should go to jail or prison in their home state for the same reason.

In his statement, Biden also requested that the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice establish an administrative process to determine whether or not marijuana falls under federal jurisdiction.

He explained that under current federal law, marijuana is considered so dangerous that it is listed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamine, which are largely responsible for the current overdose crisis, are placed in the same category as heroin and LSD.

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden continued. It is high time to put an end to these injustices.

When these pardons take effect, they will exonerate anyone who has ever been convicted of federal charges related to simple possession of marijuana since the drug was decriminalized in the 1970s.

    President Biden's statement on marijuana reform
President Biden’s statement on marijuana reform

The New York Times reported that while officials say they don’t yet have complete data, the ruling will benefit 6,500 people convicted of drug possession between 1992 and 2021. There “There are currently no individuals in federal prison for simple possession of marijuana,” the White House said Thursday.

The change was made after Vice President Joe Biden publicly apologized for his role in helping pass a crime bill in 1994 that included harsh penalties for drug offenders. This bill was signed by President Bill Clinton.

Current Marijuana Possession Law

Under the definition of “currently unaccepted medical use and high potential for abuse” found in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 substance along with LSD and heroin.

A first conviction for possession of marijuana in the United States carries a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum sentence of one year in prison. The second conviction carries a mandatory minimum of 15 days in jail and a maximum of two years, in addition to a $2,500 fine.

    President Biden's statement on marijuana reform
President Biden’s statement on marijuana reform

Repeat offenders face a maximum of three years in prison and $5,000 fine for their crime.

The United States and the legalization of marijuana

Twenty states in the US have fully legalized the recreational use of marijuana, while another 38 have legalized its medical use.

Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia (for a total of 38 states).

To varying degrees, many US states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.

The Safe and Fair Enforcement Banking Act passed the House in February, paving the way for marijuana businesses to gain access to banking. The bill has not yet been voted on in the Senate.

The Senate passed the Cannabidiol and Marijuana Research Expansion Act in March of this year, making it easier for scientists to explore the potential therapeutic uses of cannabis.
The Pew Research Center found that 91% of Americans think marijuana should be legalized in some form by 2021. 60% want it legalized for both medical and recreational use, while 31% want it legalized only for medical use.

Many Democrats have been pressing Biden for years to decriminalize marijuana. For example, Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman tweeted more than a month ago: “It’s long past time to finally decriminalize marijuana.”

A Gallup poll conducted in 2021 found that 68% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana and that 48% of Americans have tried marijuana at least once.

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