US president Joe Biden has issued an executive order pardoning all Americans convicted of federal marijuana possession charges, which estimates place at around 6,500 people.
State convictions account for the large majority of marijuana convictions, and Biden is also calling upon state governors to issue their own pardons, saying: “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”
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In a statement about the federal pardon, Biden said: “There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.
“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.
“It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
Recreational marijuana has been legalised by 19 states and Washington DC in America, while its medicinal use is legal in 37 states. But the drug is still illegal at federal level.
Biden is also now planning to ask the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to review the classification of marijuana under federal law.
“We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin - and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense,” he said.
Criminal justice advocates have welcomed the pardoning, calling it “long overdue”.
The Rev Al Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network, said Biden’s “righteous action today will give countless Americans their lives back”.
However he caveated his praise by referencing to the history of cannabis convictions that have disproportionately affected Black people, adding: “The United States will never justly legalize marijuana until it reckons with the outdated policies that equated thousands of young Black men with hardened drug pushers.”
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Editor & Digital Director, follow him on Twitter