On Thursday, President Joe Biden finally relented on his longstanding war against weed when he announced he was granting a pardon to all people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law – resulting in the most extensive White House action taken to date on federal drug policy.
“As I often said during my campaign for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” he said via statement. “It’s legal in many states, and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences.”
Indeed, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Americans are more than three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” Biden added. As the mastermind behind the 1994 crime bill intended to fight the “war on drugs,” our president would know this. White House officials said full data was not available but noted there were 6,500 people convicted of simple possession of weed under federal law between 1992 and 2021, not counting legal permanent residents.
Moreover, they say there are no people presently serving time in federal prisons solely for marijuana possession. Still, the move will help remove obstacles for those trying to get a job, find housing, apply to college or get federal benefits.
The pardons will not apply to people convicted of selling or distributing marijuana, though. I find that to be a mistake. I know of too many people who have been locked up for selling weed and have had their lives destroyed as a result of it. Now, white people make billions in the legal industry while they remain left behind.
Such a reality remains maddening in how grossly unfair and racist it is. Nevertheless, much like Biden’s recent student loan plan, his move on marijuana may not go as far as I would like, but is a step in a right direction.
In addition to taking executive action to pardon all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, Biden directed the Justice Department to review how marijuana is categorized in federal law. He also urged governors to follow his lead for people convicted on state charges of simple possession – a figure that vastly outnumbers those charged under federal laws.
Biden’s announcement stops short of full decriminalization, but it is a first, significant step. CNN reported that the president and a small circle of White House aides “had been wrangling for weeks over the changes, complicated both by Biden’s own personal skepticism about decriminalization and not wanting to dictate changes to the Justice Department.” Ultimately, “Biden was eventually moved by arguments about the lack of fairness and justice, particularly along racial lines.” That’s unsurprising – the president was the only Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 who did not support federal descheduling.
Biden’s attitude on weed speaks to his age and lack of a good high in his life, but at least racial injustice motivated him to adapt with the times to some degree.
That, and political calculus. Most Americans live in a state with some form of legalization – with nearly half allowing recreational use. Gallup found 68 percent of Americans favored legalization in 2021. Pew Research found that nine in 10 support either recreational or at least medical use of marijuana.
CNN added that White House aides hope the move “will help build enthusiasm among Black voters, younger voters and a wider array of core Democratic voters.” I’m happy Biden did this because it was the right thing to do. But as far as motivating voters on the issue goes, I suggest he take things a little further in order to actually rally such groups.
See: Texas gubernatorial candidate, Beto O’Rourke, who issued a statement pledging, “When I am governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession.” If Biden said something similar in a video and posted in various Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok ads, perhaps that might do the trick. (Even better, he can share his favorite brand of sativa.)
As of now, this is major in terms of a shift in policy, but in terms of numbers, only helps thousands of people. More can and should be done towards full decriminalization — and ultimate legalization.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism