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Holy Heck, Biden Just Pardoned Thousands Of Weed Convictions

I actually said “oh my god” out loud.

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On Thursday, Oct. 6, President Joe Biden took an action that no U.S. president has taken before — according to a statement released by the White House, he issued a pardon for thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law. This is a huge step forward for those who support the decriminalization of marijuana, and the Biden administration doesn’t seem to be stopping there. Biden’s pardon of federal marijuana convictions is huge, and here’s what it could mean for marijuana reform, as well as the future of cannabis in this country.

According to the proclamation released on Oct. 6, the president is granting “a full, complete, and unconditional pardon” to all U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have committed the offense of simple marijuana possession under federal law, including those who have been charged or convicted for possession. Notably, it does not apply to non-citizens who are in the country illegally. Nor does it apply to anyone charged under state laws, as the president only has the authority to pardon federal crimes. According to The New York Times, the pardon will apply to some 6,500 people around the country, plus thousands more in Washington, D.C., which falls under federal jurisdiction.

For Black and brown communities who have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates for using or possessing marijuana, Biden’s massive pardon is a critical step in addressing historic racial disparities. “No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” he wrote in an Oct. 6 White House release. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” he added, noting how those with these convictions on their record face “needless barriers” to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.

Beyond the pardon, Biden is encouraging every governor in the nation to take similar action in pardoning those with marijuana possession in their state. Since the president cannot pardon state-level crimes, it would be up to state governors to take action for those who have been charged under state law. “Just as no one should be in a Federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana,” Biden said in the statement, “no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.” The push for state pardons is a huge factor, as most marijuana cases take place at the state level, according to The New York Times. Per Pew Research, in 2018 police officers made over 660,000 arrests for marijuana offenses around the country, about 92% of which were for possession.

What’s more, the Biden administration is working with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the U.S. attorney general to review whether or not marijuana should still be considered as a Class 1 drug, like heroin and ecstasy. If marijuana is reduced to a less dangerous class, then millions of people across the country could face less severe consequences should they be charged with possession.

But even as the country moves toward less stringent consequences around marijuana possession, full decriminalization doesn’t currently appear to be imminent, and Biden emphasizes how regulations on “trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales” should remain in place. While it’s unclear if Biden plans on taking more dramatic steps toward the decriminalization of marijuana, one thing is certain: he believes possession charges shouldn’t turn someone’s life upside down. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden wrote. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”