In the Words of Vice President Joe Biden: But Where Are the Promised Amnesties for Marijuana Possession and Sale that You Made Earlier?

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In October, with much hoopla, the president announced his intention to pardon all U.S. citizens who have a conviction for federal marijuana possession and are therefore subject to the stigma associated with that conviction.

The president warned that thousands of people with federal convictions for marijuana possession face discrimination in areas such as housing, job, and education. “I hope that by taking this step, I will help mitigate the unintended consequences of these convictions.”

The media frenzy that followed was immediate and appropriate.

Some two-thirds of Americans now feel cannabis prohibition ought to be repealed, and almost half of all U.S. states have already done away with it, but never before had a sitting president openly acknowledged the shortcomings of America’s nearly century-long experiment with cannabis prohibition. Not since the Great Depression has a president offered to pardon so many people as a result of a failing policy.

The decision was so groundbreaking that Susan Rice, director of Biden’s Domestic Policy Council, praised it on Twitter as one of the administration’s greatest successes of 2022.

Despite all the congratulations, an uncomfortable fact remains: not one of the 6,557 Americans listed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission as being eligible for presidential pardons has actually received one.

Unfortunately, the Justice Department’s website still says, “The Application for Certificate of Pardon for Simple Possession of Marijuana is not yet accessible,” even though Biden’s announcement was made three months ago.

It is quite disheartening that the administration has been so slow to act on the pardon order. Many of those who are eligible for pardon have, as the president has previously acknowledged, missed out on countless chances due to a conviction for conduct that is no longer seen as criminal by the majority of Americans. No longer should they be expected to wait for help to arrive.

It’s not all bad news, thankfully. That’s because the administration has merely made vague promises to pardon and seal the records of former marijuana offenders, while numerous states are really doing so.

There are currently 24 states with legislation that make it possible for people with minor marijuana offences to have such charges expunged (or otherwise dismissed). Since 2018, state and municipal governments have granted over 100,000 pardons and more than 1.7 million expungements due to marijuana use, according to publicly available data gathered by NORML.

Many supporters also think these numbers could rise if Congress passed bipartisan legislation like The HOPE Act, which would give states federal assistance to review and expunge low-level cannabis offences.

About 29 million people have been arrested for marijuana-related offences during the past few decades. Roughly 90% of those apprehended were charged with misdemeanours related to cannabis possession. To help individuals who have suffered unjustly because of America’s failed marijuana prohibition laws, officials on all sides of the aisle, and the White House in particular, ought to act quickly to right the wrongs of cannabis criminalization.

As the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws), Paul Armentano is dedicated to changing the current marijuana laws.

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