The Justice Policy Institute applauds President Biden’s decision to issue a mass pardon to anyone with a federal conviction for marijuana possession. The enforcement of marijuana possession laws is clearly an issue of fairness and racial justice. Data show that white, Black, and Brown people use marijuana at similar rates; however, people who are Black and Brown are treated more harshly at every point in the criminal legal system. For example, Black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than are white people. The President’s action is a step toward a fairer and more effective system, and all states should follow President Biden’s lead.
President Biden’s action may also affect people from the District of Columbia, which is under federal criminal jurisdiction, for convictions that took place before the District legalized the possession of small quantities of marijuana. “We are pleased that the federal government has caught up with the District of Columbia in marijuana policy. District residents deserve the chance at a clean slate in employment, housing, and educational applications,” said JPI Executive Director Marc Schindler.
This decision, on the federal level, affects over 6,000 cases; it has a far greater potential reach as it sets an example for the states in ending this era of drug policy. As the President issues these pardons, 37 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and 19 states have legalized the use of marijuana by adults. JPI urges that the remaining states – especially Maryland, where legalization is on the ballot this November – follow President Biden’s lead today and decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana for individual consumption.
JPI is also encouraged by President Biden’s instruction to his Administration to expedite a review of whether marijuana should continue to be a Schedule 1 substance, a designation generally reserved for dangerous drugs like fentanyl and heroin; it’s long overdue that marijuana no longer be treated similarly to these drugs under federal law.