Citing “over a century of failed and racist cannabis policies,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren and two other leading Democrats have joined a growing chorus of activists, celebrities and congressional Democrats in calling on President Joe Biden to pardon people with federal marijuana convictions and set up a process for formally clearing their criminal records.
Warren joined fellow Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Senator Jeffrey Merkley of Oregon for sending a letter to Biden last week requesting a “blanket pardon” for all nonviolent federal marijuana convictions. The lawmakers urged Biden to use his constitutional authority to pardon a “broad class” of people, which would fulfill “promises” made by Biden on the campaign trail and transform the lives of “tens of thousands of Americans,” including those who are currently in prison or formerly incarcerated and have difficulty accessing jobs and services due to their criminal record.
Advocates and Democrats are urging Biden to take executive action regarding marijuana. introduced sweeping billsThe Senate and the House both passed legislation that would repeal federal prohibition and expunge criminal convictions, but they are at risk of being put on hold. The House passed an earlier version last year of the legislation, which was defeated in the Senate. Democrats, however, have used their slim majority in Congress in order to prioritize a number of other issues during this legislative session.
Biden was a presidential candidate. debating Warren and other Democrats on marijuana policy at the time, said “we should decriminalize marijuana,” and declared people with marijuana convictions should be “let out of jail” and have their records expunged. In a pledge to “Black America,” the Biden campaign said the president would “decriminalize the use of cannabis” and “expunge all prior cannabis use convictions.”
The latter pledge to expunge convictions for cannabis “use” appears to fall short of requests by Warren and others to issue a “blanket pardon” for all nonviolent cannabis offenses, which would include people charged with growing and selling cannabis. Few people, if any, are in federal prison for simple use of marijuana and as recreational and medical cannabis sales. continue to growDemocrats are concerned about the uneven enforcement in many states of federal marijuana prohibition.
“In the 1970s, President Nixon launched the War on Drugs over the objections of his own advisors and experts, spawning mass incarceration policies with devastating effects on Black and Brown families,” the senators wrote. “Today, despite legalization efforts across the country and roughly equal cannabis usage rates, Black Americans are still nearly four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession as white Americans.”
Biden has remained resistant to the idea of legalizing marijuana at the federal level, even as other Democrats say legalization’s sheer popularity among voters makes marijuana reform a political no-brainer. Biden stated that he supports decimalization. This is a way to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties for possessing small amounts without lifting prohibition.
Fellow Democrats have warnedFor years, their party has been urging marijuana legalization before Republicans try to claim credit. GOP efforts are underway. Republican Rep. Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina, will be speaking on Monday. introducedHouse legislation to repeal federal marijuana prohibition and exonerate nonviolent federal cannabis convictions to free people from prison and clear criminal records.
The nonpartisan marijuana reform group NORML said Republicans have introduced previous legislation that would “narrowly amend” federal marijuana laws, but Mace’s is the first to provide relief to those who have been criminalized.
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act, introduced by Democrats in House, would go further and prohibit denials of federal benefits and immigration protections based upon marijuana convictions. It also funnels tax revenues from legal sales to programs benefiting communities harmed during the drug war. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Chuck Schumer, Democratic Majority Leader.
“Between the previously passed MORE Act, the recent Senate proposal by Schumer, and this new bill, it is truly a race to the top for the best ideas and smartest approaches to responsible reform,” said Justin Strekal, NORML’s political director, in a statement.
Jen Psaki, White House Press secretary, will be addressing the nation in April said Biden supports legalizing medical marijuana while leaving decisions over whether to legalize and how to regulate recreational weed up to individual states, which the Democratic bills and Mace’s legislation are also designed to do. However, instead of ending the federal ban that is currently in conflict with multiple states, Biden supports “rescheduling” cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, the federal law that regulates and prohibits psychoactive drugs.
Marijuana is currently a Schedule I drug considered by the federal government to have no “currently accepted medical use” and therefore completely banned, which flies in the face of plenty of researchMedical cannabis and millions of patients. If “rescheduled” under Schedule II, cannabis would join a list of highly regulated drugs including powerful prescription painkillers that are considered “dangerous,” but researchers would have easier access to cannabis for studying its “positive and negative effects,” as Psaki put it.
Biden has said he opposesLegalization should be delayed until more research is done on the health effects of cannabis. experts say reflects the opinions of older voters in Biden’s generation and family members of people who developed substance abuse disorders.
There are many positive and negative effects that cannabis can have. are well-knownDespite federal prohibition, marijuana is widely used across the country. Advocates, leading Democrats and a growing number of Republicans say marijuana should be “descheduled” and removed from Controlled Substances Act altogether, which would effectively end federal prohibition.
“At this point, it is nonsensical and cruel for President Biden to stand by any position that is not in full of support of descheduling marijuana, particularly when the tide is now turning toward full drug decriminalization,” Maritza Perez, the national affairs director at the Drug Policy Alliance, recently told Truthout.
On October 9, Warren and Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that his office initiate a multi-agency review of cannabis scheduling, which would be the Biden administration’s first step toward removing marijuana from Schedule I without waiting for Congress to pass legislation. Garland had until October 20 to reply, but it is unclear if Garland will actually act. The Department of Justice and both Warren and Booker’s offices have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, Biden could also help to kickstart the administrative process of descheduling marijuana. He could issue executive orders requesting federal agencies to conduct a review of health and begin a rulemaking process. The Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House’s drug policy office, did not respond to a request for comment on the calls to deschedule marijuana and issue a “blanket pardon” for past convictions.
A biden administration effort to deschedule cannabis administratively would take a while and be met with legal challenges. Warren, Markey and Merkley wrote that issuing a blanket pardon for people with nonviolent cannabis convictions and setting up a process for expunging criminal records would allow President Biden to “act now.”
“Most importantly, such a pardon — combined with your leadership on an accessible expungement process to formally clear the criminal records of those affected — would mark the beginning of a reversal of decades of ineffective and discriminatory cannabis policies, allowing Americans to return to their communities, find housing and jobs, and rebuild their lives without the burdens of an unjustly imposed criminal record,” the senators wrote.