President Joe Biden recently announced the pardoning of all federal offenses of the “simple possession of marijuana” on Oct. 6. The pardon will only apply to federal offenses of marijuana, as the President only has the power to pardon federal offenses. As a direct result, proponents of the legalization of marijuana may be disappointed with how few people will be pardoned, with only about 6,500 cases being eligible for a pardon.
The Biden and Harris Administration has remained openly and publicly in support of marijuana, though the administration has long received criticisms of hypocrisy on this front—Biden was instrumental in criminalizing marijuana further with his involvement in the 1994 Crime Control Act, where he commented that his bill was “much tougher than the president’s.” Even more recently, there was a controversy around the White House firing staffers who had a history of marijuana usage while Harris has openly commented about their past marijuana usage. These events are confirmation that the Biden administration is not as committed to the cause of marijuana legalization as proponents of marijuana are.
“I’m still not satisfied with just a simple pardoning,” said Chad Roberts, who owns Foggy Acres, a business which grows and sells cannabis products such as CBD oils. “My unbiased opinion and speculation is that this is simply because of polling reasons. The Biden and Harris administration already said that they were going to federally legalize marijuana, but the fact that after all this time they’re only pardoning is only a grain of sand in a mountain of possibilities.”
Biden—in addition to pardoning all federal offenses for the simple possession of marijuana—is also urging state governors to pardon possession of marijuana at the state level too, as the majority of marijuana offenses are at the state level. In the case of Oregon, pardoning possession of marijuana offenses has already been pursued seriously with the Senate Bill 420 passed in 2019, which relates to the expunging of marijuana related-convictions. “The results were bipartisan, especially in the Senate,” said Jason Hitzert, the staff-to-state representative to Sen. Chris Gorsek. “It wasn’t a very controversial bill.” In addition, Oregon has already pushed the boundaries of marijuana legalization and decriminalization with Measure 110 in 2020, which helped decriminalize small drug uses for personal use.
The most important part of Biden’s move to pardon federal offenses is not actually its direct impact of pardoning offenders, but rather its soft impact, which indicates the stance that the White House is trying to pursue. “I still don’t think that a federal pardon is strong enough,” Roberts said. “But I think that this is an open recognition of just how strong the activism to legalize marijuana is. It is a victimless crime with lots of strong medical benefits and most importantly, money being lost for the state if they keep on with criminalizing marijuana… This will definitely increase acceptance of marijuana across the country at a time when there are still people who believe that marijuana is as dangerous as it is portrayed by pharmaceutical companies.”
It is possible to speculate that with the White House pardoning possession of marijuana in addition to urging state governments to do the same, this could also mean that state governments with at least a mixed stance on the criminalization of marijuana will start to cease prosecutions against marijuana. This is important for marijuana users across the country, as this means that arrests for marijuana may decrease due to considerations of pardoning marijuana offenses.
“The sooner we can decriminalize marijuana the better,” Roberts said. “If not just for the taxes generated for the states, then at the least for the sake of the people who use marijuana. Convictions for even simple possession of marijuana are insane. I know someone who was imprisoned by the state for 30 years for less than an ounce of cannabis. The first thing he saw when he got out of prison? A weed shop with weed to sell. It’s ridiculous and people who are still imprisoned for marijuana need to be released.”
“I’m glad that this is being done,” said a former inmate who wished to remain anonymous. “The pardon will not bring back the 10 years I spent in prison, but at least it can salvage the time that others are unjustly facing. Whether you like it or not, marijuana is going to be legalized. At some point the people are accepting marijuana and are in favor of it faster than ever. This honestly isn’t a question about whether people should be pardoned for having some weed, but whether the states want to keep putting people in prison and ruining lives when the near future is going to make it legal.”