Biden issues another pardon for 'simple possession' and 'use of marijuana' on federal level and in D.C.

 December 23, 2023

In 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden promised to reduce or eliminate various federal restrictions against cannabis and marijuana possession and usage.

On Friday, President Biden took another step toward fulfilling the campaign vow with a proclamation that issued a blanket pardon for all American citizens and legal residents previously arrested, charged, or convicted of simple possession or usage of marijuana, according to the Washington Examiner.

Biden's act of clemency, as well as a similar but more limited move last year, only applies to those who violated marijuana possession and usage prohibitions at the federal level and in Washington D.C. and is not applicable at the state level, though he reiterated his same call from last year for state governors and legislatures to act similarly on the issue.

Extension of prior pardon to include "attempted possession" and "use" of marijuana

In Friday's proclamation, President Biden referenced his prior grant of clemency in October 2022 for simple possession of marijuana and declared, "As I have said before, convictions for simple possession of marijuana have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities."

"Through this proclamation, consistent with the grant of Proclamation 10467, I am pardoning additional individuals who may continue to experience the unnecessary collateral consequences of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana," he continued.

"Therefore," he added and cited his constitutional authority, "I, Joseph R. Biden Jr., do hereby grant a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who, on or before the date of this proclamation, committed or were convicted of the offense of simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana, regardless of whether they have been charged with or prosecuted for these offenses on or before the date of this proclamation.

Pardon doesn't apply to other drug-related charges or illegal immigrants

President Biden's proclamation went on to cite the specific statutes impacted at the federal level and in the D.C. Code and clarified that his action taken pertains to "pardon only the offenses of simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana in violation of the Federal and D.C. laws."

As such, the grant of clemency did not extend to "any other offenses involving other controlled substances or activity beyond simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana, such as possession of marijuana with intent to distribute or driving offenses committed while under the influence of marijuana."

Nor does the presidential pardon apply to illegal immigrants, or as Biden phrased it, "individuals who were non-citizens not lawfully present in the United States at the time of their offense."

Biden admin also working to reschedule marijuana under Controlled Substances Act

The Examiner noted that in addition to this presidential pardon that expanded upon the more limited pardon for simple marijuana possession issued last year, President Biden also took another small step toward fulfilling his campaign promise to relax federal marijuana prohibitions by way of his administration starting the process to reschedule how cannabis and marijuana are classified by the government.

A Forbes op-ed in October reported on how Biden's Department of Health and Human Services in August formally recommended that cannabis and marijuana be reclassified from the most restrictive Schedule I to the mid-tier Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act's five-tier classification chart.

That recommendation now awaits consideration by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which typically follows the lead of HHS, but first will determine where cannabis and marijuana stand in terms of "(1) Its potential for abuse; (2) Its potential for medical use; and, (3) The extent to which it's unsafe or addictive."

If the HHS recommendation is agreed to by the DEA, it will then be forwarded to the U.S. attorney general to make a final determination on whether or not to reschedule the controlled substances.

To be sure, this move is well short of the complete de-scheduling that marijuana legalization advocates have called for -- which would place cannabis and marijuana on par with potentially addictive and harmful but lightly regulated substances like alcohol and tobacco -- but is nonetheless seen as a positive if incremental step in that direction.

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