Criminal Justice

Biden announces pardons for simple pot possession, tasks DOJ with developing application procedure

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President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he will pardon people who have been convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal or Washington, D.C., laws. But the procedure won’t be automatic.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, acting through the Department of Justice’s pardon attorney, has been tasked with developing an application procedure and reviewing pardon applications, according to a statement and a proclamation issued by Biden. Those who qualify will receive a certificate of pardon.

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

Marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 drug under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, along with drugs including LSD and heroin. The Schedule 1 designation is for the most dangerous drugs.

Biden said he will ask Garland and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to begin a review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Schedule 1 designation is “even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine—the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic,” Biden said in the statement.

Biden’s pardon won’t apply to state court convictions, and it won’t protect people from being charged with federal or District of Columbia marijuana offenses after Oct. 6, according to a Q&A page by the pardon attorney. Nor will it apply to noncitizens here illegally at the time of the offense.

A presidential pardon doesn’t signify innocence or expunge the conviction, the pardon attorney webpage explains. But it does remove civil disabilities, such as the right to vote and to hold office, and it can be helpful in obtaining a job or some licenses.

Applications will be available “in the near future.”

Hat tip to Politico, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post, which covered Biden’s announcement.

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