For the first time since he was inaugurated, Joe Biden is attempting to make some changes to cannabis policy by pardoning those with federal convictions.
The move is seriously limited in scope and will leave many victims of the war on cannabis behind, but it’s still a step in the right direction.
The truth is that this action is nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to distract from the fact that the Democrats haven’t actually done anything about cannabis laws or pardons for years now. And unless we see real changes take place soon, this pardon may end up being one more thing for Biden and the DNC’s legacies—legacies that may already be irreparably marred.
The True Scope Of The Presidential Pardon
On October 8th, 2022, President Biden issued a presidential pardon to thousands of people with federal marijuana charges. In his announcement, Biden made it clear that his presidential pardon did not extend to those with state convictions, illegal immigrants, military service members, people convicted for selling cannabis, or other victims of the War on Drugs.
According to a senior administration official, from 1992 to 2021, over 6,500 US citizens were convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law, with thousands more convicted under a Washington, D.C. code.
According to the official, no one is in federal prison for simple marijuana possession alone, and the majority of marijuana possession convictions occur at the state level. Most relevant federal convictions are for drug trafficking, not possession; since the pardon explicitly excludes those with sale or trafficking charges, the bulk of those who could have been helped by Biden’s decision are sadly left out in the cold.
People with state charges are excluded from the pardon, and that’s a problem.
In Texas alone, there were 21,000 arrests for cannabis-related crimes in 2021. In Florida, 14,000 people were arrested on cannabis charges in 2021. In Georgia, 25,000 people were imprisoned on cannabis charges in 2021. There are 60,000 people imprisoned on cannabis-related charges just in these three states that will not be pardoned by Joe Biden.
Why Act Now?
When it comes to cannabis, there’s no better time than now.
Biden was elected in 2020 on a platform that included ending prohibition and criminalization of cannabis. Now, just two years into his presidency, he has decided to pardon people who were convicted for possession of marijuana before it was legalized by states. This is a big step in the right direction for the legalization movement.
The timing of this pardon is also very interesting—just one month before the midterms, Biden is trying to make an impact with voters who may not be as enthusiastic about his presidency. He’s hoping that pardoning these people will help improve voter turnout among younger voters who supported him in 2020 but who might be hesitant about voting for him again.
The Democrats have a history of making midterm moves in the hopes of retaining voters, but true cannabis advocates will recognize this as a performative move.
Is The Pardon Enough?
The presidential cannabis pardon is not enough.
In fact, it’s a move that is more symbolic than practical. Of the thousands of people who have been incarcerated for cannabis-related crimes over the years, only a few hundred prisoners will be eligible for this pardon—and even those who are eligible may not receive it if they don’t know about it or if their request gets lost in the shuffle.
This pardon does little to reduce the national prison population because it leaves out so many people. It doesn’t address families broken up by deportations or arrests for cannabis use, nor does it help veterans who may be using cannabis to cope with PTSD they received as pawns in political games. It doesn’t even address half of the prisoners with cannabis convictions!
The people who will be pardoned deserve it, but everyone deserves a cannabis pardon—including those whose families have been destroyed by these unjust laws over generations and those whose lives were ruined by being forced into an industry that profits off of human suffering.
Overall, we are disappointed, but not surprised, at the Democrats’ and Joe Biden’s marijuana pardon. We expected that the Democratic party would be more progressive on this issue, and it’s clear that they have not taken the bold steps needed to change our criminal justice system.
This is great news for those who are pardoned, and hopefully, this inspires many states to create their own pardoning programs. But we need to remember that these individuals have already served their time and paid their debts to society. The fact that they still cannot go home due to their past mistakes is unacceptable.
Hopefully, 2023 will be a better year for marijuana reform!
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