Biden to pardon federal simple marijuana possession convictions; urges states to follow lead
President Joe Biden announced today he will pardon all federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana. He is also urging governors to follow his lead when it comes 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,” said Biden.
In making this announcement today, Biden fulfills one of his campaign promises made when running for President.
“Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” Biden said. “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.
Biden has directed the Attorney General to develop a process for the issuance of certificates to pardon eligible individuals. He has also asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Attorney General to review 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 the nation’s overdose epidemic.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” Biden said.
NORML, a nonprofit in favor of legalizing marijuana said today’s announcement is long overdue.
“We are pleased that today President Biden is following through on this pledge and that he is also encouraging governors to take similar steps to ensure that the tens of millions of Americans with state-level convictions for past marijuana crimes can finally move forward with their lives,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML.
Since 1965, nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related violations.
“Moving forward, the administration must work collaboratively with Congressional leadership to repeal America’s failed marijuana criminalization laws. Nearly half of voters now agree that legalizing marijuana ought to be a priority for Congress, and such action can only be taken by descheduling cannabis and repealing it from the US Controlled Substances Act — thereby regulating it in a manner similar to alcohol.
“Congress should be inspired by the Administration’s actions today to act quickly and send legislation to the President’s desk that would help close this dark chapter of our history.”
Marijuana laws in Virginia
In 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam approved legislation decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses. The law took effect on July 1, 2020. The law reduced penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation with a minimal fine and no arrest or criminal record. The law also sealed past marijuana convictions from employers and school administrators.
In July 2021, Virginia was the 15th state and first state in the South to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 2022 budget bill contained language recriminalizing activities involving personal possession of more than four ounces of marijuana in public. Under the new law, the public possession of more than four ounces, but less than one pound of cannabis is a Class 3 misdemeanor with a $500 fine. Second or subsequent offenses are Class 2 misdemeanors punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
NORML lists offenses and penalties on its website for Virginians.
Virginia Norml: What is legal in Virginia?
- Possession for personal use by adults 21+ at their residence
- Public possession by adults 21+ of up to one ounce
- Personal cultivation of up to 4 plants per household by adults 21+ at their primary residence
- Adult-sharing of up to one ounce in private without remuneration
- Continued participation in the medical cannabis program which allows purchase at Virginia dispensaries