President Biden announces pardons for Federal cannabis convictions and steps toward sweeping reform

President Biden announces pardons for Federal cannabis convictions and steps toward sweeping reform


Today, President Biden announced the beginning of steps that will reshape cannabis reform in the United States.

Biden often touched on cannabis and criminal justice reform while campaigning, but the president has offered little in the way of support or leadership to those reform efforts during his time in office. Instead, the Biden administration has faced harsh criticism for its treatment of cannabis use by staff and its tone-deaf responses and lack of action.

Thursday’s announcement is monumental in its scope and, should the administration follow through on each of its promises, would forever change the landscape of cannabis in the country. Further, Biden’s plan would be the country’s most impactful measure pertaining to criminal justice reform in decades, if not ever.

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.  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,” President Biden said in a release.

“Today, I am announcing three steps that I am taking to end this failed approach. First, I am announcing a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana,” the President said. This marks the most significant step toward alleviating the failures of the War on Drugs by any administration. “I have directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.  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.”

“Second, I am urging all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.  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,” President Biden continued. While the President’s urging doesn’t guarantee any changes at a state level, the move will put political pressure on Governors and legislators, especially in states with legal marijuana programs, to create their own pardon or expungement programs.


“Third, I am asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.  Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances.  This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic.”

While pardons of current sentences will be the most impactful and immediate change to come from Thursday’s announcements – the descheduling of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act could be the most significant change in perpetuity. Descheduling marijuana could open the doors for much broader criminal justice reforms, push states to move forward with legalization of adult use and medical marijuana programs, and would open the doors for more opportunities for study and research with much less restriction.

But the President’s statement did contain some caveats as to restrictions he said will and should remain.”Finally, even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place.”

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs,” President Biden concluded.