With thousands of people still locked away in prisons for marijuana-related charges, protestors took to the streets in front of the White House, donning cannabis leaves on their attire and wielding a 50-foot inflatable joint with the words “quit Biden our time” written on it. The protestors congregated outside of the White House to demand the release of the people who still remain incarcerated for non-violent marijuana-related crimes.
Biden’s 2019 campaign promise to release “everyone” imprisoned for marijuana use was played over and over by protesters, who charged that it was a half-measure intended to deceive voters ahead of the November 8 midterm elections.
Although the protest was planned well before Biden’s announcement, the fact that the clemency has resulted in no one being released from jail for cannabis crimes, despite Biden’s repeated statements that no one should be imprisoned for marijuana, was reason enough for the groups to go ahead with their protest plans.
“Keep Your Promise, Joe, Let Our People Go.”
The streets in front of the Whitehouse were consumed with cries for Biden to use his executive authority to release our incarcerated friends and family. His announcement earlier this month that he would grant mass pardons to anyone convicted of a federal crime for simply possessing marijuana was deemed insufficient by protesters, who point to White House officials’ acknowledgment that the pardons will not result in anyone actually being released from prison.
The audio clip from Biden’s 2020 campaign, where he stated that no one should be in jail for marijuana use, was accompanied by chants of “keep your promise, Joe, let our people go.”
The pardons would apply to roughly 6,500 people nationwide who have had federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana on their records since 1992, and the White House has insisted that they fulfilled the 2020 campaign promise.
According to a announcement for 2021, “more than 3,000 people are currently serving time in federal prison for marijuana-related offenses.” The document also projected that repealing federal cannabis prohibition would result in a reduction of more than 2,800 federal prisoners over the next five years.
So far, the only response we have received from White House officials was to highlight previous commitments from Biden’s 2020 speech and direct activists to his website. This feels like a half-winded response since activists have made it clear that this isn’t enough.
Despite the significant change in public opinion regarding marijuana, proponents are concerned about the individuals who were found guilty and given sentences prior to this increased acceptance. The District of Columbia, two territories, and 19 states now permit the recreational use of marijuana by adults. Next month, it will be on the ballot in five more states.
According to activists, the nation must acknowledge how harmful drug-war policies, including discriminatory policing tactics and marijuana sentencing laws, disproportionately harmed black and brown communities. While black people continue to make up the majority of marijuana-related arrests nationwide, white entrepreneurs make up the majority of the legal market.
A Slap In The Face
One of the many people still incarcerated for cannabis crimes is Ricardo Ashmeade, who is serving a 22-year sentence following his guilty plea in November 2008. He is currently serving time in a medium-security federal prison in Welch, W.Va., with an expected release date of April 2, 2027. While incarcerated, he’s tried to remain strong and positive by keeping in touch with his four children and being as present in their lives as possible.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Ashmeade requested to be released from prison, but he was denied. Prosecutors stated in court records filed by the government in opposition to Ashmeade’s request for compassionate release that he was an “integral part” of a seven-year-long drug offense.
However, during his more than 14 years in prison, Ashmeade has followed news coverage of a “thriving cannabis industry that we actually helped create.” There are large corporations on the stock exchange… making far more money than we ever imagined.” “It seems like a slap in the face, to tell you the truth, for Biden to pardon just for simple possession right before midterm elections just to get some clout. It’s very disheartening and it’s actually a letdown,” Ashmeade said. “We feel in here like he has actually forgotten about us, the guys who have received draconian sentences.”
Because of widespread public support, federal marijuana legalization is widely regarded as unavoidable. Despite the fact that possession is still illegal under federal law, the federal government has allowed 19 states and two US territories to tax and regulate recreational marijuana since 2012.
Biden needs to realize that his pardon announcement is not going to please the public the way he hoped it would. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. Not to mention that being this close to midterms, it seems as though he’s throwing us just enough breadcrumbs to keep us in line. However, with a new generation of young people more concerned about their future, silence is unlikely until we get what we want. They are willing to take whatever measures necessary to take their future into their own hands. After all, they’re the ones who will have to live in it.
This protest probably won’t be the last if Biden and the federal government don’t get their act together and make good on their promise.
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