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Don't Expect A Pot Party At The White House But... Maybe No More Firings For A Joint?

Another Big Biden Marijuana Pardon



Joe Biden hasn’t exactly been a friend of the marijuana legalization movement— but yesterday he did something that no president ever has before, announcing a blanket pardon for thousands of people who were convicted of use and simple possession of marijuana on federal lands and in the District of Columbia, in his latest round of executive clemencies meant to rectify racial disparities in the justice system. When Biden was beginning his political career— “War on Drugs” era— he took a hard-line stance against marijuana and supported tough anti-drug legislation, including bills that increased penalties for possession and trafficking. In a 1977 Senate speech, he argued that marijuana legalization would lead to “an increase in crime, an increase in violence” and called it “a terrible, terrible mistake.” And in the 1980s he was still railing against medical marijuana, claiming it would be "a great mistake" and would "open the door" to widespread abuse.


In 1984 he was the primary co-sponsor of his pal Strom Thurmond’s Comprehensive Crime Control Act (S.1762), which increased penalties for marijuana possession and trafficking. This bill doubled the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of 50 grams or more of marijuana and created harsh penalties for repeat offenders. Two years later, he supported the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which further stiffened penalties for drug offenses, including marijuana. In general, he supported legislation resulting in mass incarceration and racial disparities in sentencing. 


He has since evolved though even when attitudes began shifting in the 2000s, he held back until 2014 when he stated that he supported the idea of states decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana while keeping it federally illegal. During the 2020 election, he said he favored decriminalization and expungement of past convictions but still stopped short of legalization on a federal level.


Yesterday he said “Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs… Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either. That’s why I continue to urge Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses and applaud those who have since taken action.” 



No one was freed from prison under last year’s action, but the pardons were meant to help thousands overcome obstacles to renting a home or finding a job. Similarly, no federal prisoners are eligible for release as a result of Friday’s action.
But the order expands the grounds on which pardons are issued. In the last round, people were pardoned for simple possession under only one criminal statute. Friday’s pardons also apply to several other criminal statutes, including attempted simple possession.
Biden’s order applies only to marijuana, which has been decriminalized or legalized in many states for some or all uses, but remains a controlled substance under federal law. U.S. regulators are studying reclassifying the drug from the category of drugs deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” known as “Schedule I,” to the less tightly regulated “Schedule III.”
The pardon also does not apply to those in the U.S. unlawfully at the time of their offense.
Biden’s proclamation effectively pardons the covered people, but they will need to submit applications to the Justice Department’s pardon attorney office to receive certificates of pardon that can be used for housing and employment purposes.
Biden on Friday reiterated his call on governors and local leaders to take similar steps to erase marijuana convictions.

Pramila Jayapal represents one of the most socially advanced districts in the country: Seattle. She’s very much in sync with her constituents. “No one,” she told me yesterday, “should be imprisoned for marijuana possession— and it’s no secret that Black and Brown Americans are arrested at significantly higher rates for marijuana possession. These laws and harsh sentences are a lasting visage of the failed War on Drugs. Today’s action from President Biden is a step towards justice and will give thousands of people a fresh start.”


Ro Khanna, who represents part of Silicon Valley has a similar perspective. He tweeted “I’m glad to see the White House using the pardon power for good, as opposed to the corrupt, self-dealing pardons we've seen in the past. This is the right first step, but we still have a long way to go until the scales are balanced from the disastrous War on Drugs.”


Jerrad Christian is running for an Ohio congressional seat held by reactionary Republican Troy Balderson. I can only imagine what Balderson will say about the pardons— he’s probably waiting for NRCC messaging to be focus-group tested, but Christian, a former Navy vet who works as a software engineer, told me that “Presidential pardons for marijuana charges are not only a crucial step in rectifying past injustices but also a significant move towards a more compassionate and sensible legal system. We must acknowledge the undue hardships and life-altering consequences faced by individuals for minor offenses, paving the way for healing and progress in our society.”


Like Christian, Jamie McLeod-Skinner is a Blue America-endorsed congressional candidate from a state starting with “O,” her’s being Oregon. And she also is in sync with voters in her district: “Oregonians have already voted to legalize marijuana and it is now part of our agricultural economy. By pardoning those who were imprisoned simply for the possession or use of marijuana, President Biden has shown leadership in challenging us to focus on solving the biggest problems our families are facing. As 31 states have already legalized or decriminalized marijuana, this ensures that the federal government does not prevent those with minor past infractions from accessing employment, housing, and educational opportunities. This helps us focus our limited resources on building healthy and safe communities.”



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2 Comments


Guest
Dec 23, 2023

I remain more circumspect than 4b. This does not make up for his support for draconian laws that ruined the lives of thousands for their "crime" of possessing a joint. But democraps and biden could use all the help they can get next November... and voters being dumber than shit and all, it may do just that.


If your theory is that you can spend a lifetime ratfucking poor hapless rubes for fun and to get elected; and then make it all ok by saying oopsie and giving them a cookie... this is for you.


That said, this might be his only positive in his admin. Unless you consider not getting in the way when others try to do goo…


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Biden continues to impress. He is a person who can be flexible and change, much to his credit. He has done a great deal of good things.

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