“In addition to that,” he continued, “they should be released from prison and entirely pardoned and their entire record obliterated so that if people have to ask, ‘Have you ever been [convicted], you can honestly respond, ‘No.'”
Vice President Biden did not elaborate on the blanket clemency he granted in October to thousands of persons convicted of federal marijuana possession violations by noting the specifics of the pardons he issued. Yet he has consistently used this as an example of a campaign promise that he has kept.
It’s noteworthy that he advocated for freeing those with cannabis-related convictions from prison and for expunging their records.
The pardons he granted do not technically clear criminal records because doing so is outside of his executive authority, but he has urged governors to follow his lead and grant relief at the state level, where their authority may be different and where the vast majority of cannabis cases have been prosecuted.
Since hundreds of people are still in prison for cannabis-related federal offenses, supporters have lobbied hard for their immediate release. Nonetheless, Biden has made it plain that he will only pardon people with minor possession charges and not those who have committed more serious offenses, like selling cannabis.
According to a new report from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), federal marijuana prosecutions were at an all-time low in the most recent fiscal year, and no one is currently in prison for possession of marijuana.
During his remarks at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day breakfast, Vice President Biden briefly addressed the efforts of his administration to secure the release of WNBA player Brittney Griner, a medical marijuana patient who spent 10 months in a Russian prison for possession of cannabis vape cartridges before being released as part of a prisoner swap last month.
NAN was founded by Rev. Al Sharpton, an advocate for criminal justice reform, and he stated in a press statement that Biden has “proven a tireless dedication to not only protecting but advancing civil rights in the United States.”
In the meantime, Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, said last month that the president’s clemency for the cannabis industry and directive for an administrative review into cannabis scheduling has helped address the country’s “failed approach to marijuana” and are key parts of the administration’s “remarkably productive year.”
Rice was among the many authorities who applauded Oregon’s governor for responding to Vice President Biden’s call to action by delivering aid at the state level.
While the administration is conducting the cannabis scheduling review, a bipartisan group of 29 senators from both the House and the Senate wrote a letter to the president last month requesting that he openly support federal legalization.
After a string of defeats for proponents, including the failure to include marijuana banking and other reforms in either the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or the omnibus spending legislation last month, a letter was written to the president and the key cabinet officials.
While the senators didn’t specifically ask for Biden to take any administrative action to speed up legalization on his own, their enthusiasm for more active involvement from the White House in supporting reform is clear.
Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who was copied on the letter, shared a link to a Marijuana Moment story that outlines the president’s administrative cannabis scheduling instruction on Twitter.
Becerra, who has a lengthy record of supporting cannabis legalization as a congressman and as California’s attorney general, said at the recent overdose prevention event, “We’re going to take a look at what science tells us and what the evidence tells us.” That’s going to be the guiding principle for our actions, and we’re hoping it will be the same for the federal government.
In response to the president’s declaration in October, the secretary pledged that his agency would “work as rapidly as we can” to complete the scientific study. To that purpose, he has already broached the subject with the FDA commissioner.
White House drug czar stated separately that the president’s move was “historic,” and that there are “obviously” medical benefits of cannabis.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has pledged to complete the president’s separate scheduling review as expeditiously as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This review could lead to a recommendation to place cannabis on a lower schedule or remove it entirely, effectively legalizing the plant at the federal level.
Last month, President Obama also signed a bill to legalize marijuana research, marking the first time in American history that a single piece of federal cannabis reform legislation has been passed.
Multiple polls have shown that the majority of Americans approve of the president’s pardon and do not believe that marijuana should be classed as a Schedule I substance at the federal level.