Joe Biden’s Pardons Don’t Mean a Damn Thing to the People Still In Prison For Marijuana Offenses

Don’t get too hype. They play this game a lot.

Just in time for the 2022 midterm elections, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that about 6,500 people convicted of cannabis possession at the federal level would be pardoned. The problem? None of those people were in prison.

Sure, pardoning thousands of people for a simple marijuana conviction sounds good, but how impactful is it really when the people most affected by the war on drugs are still serving time? Very few people are convicted of marijuana possession under federal law. 92 in 2017 to be precise.

In a tweet on Oct. 6th, Biden announced his plan to address the many failed approaches to marijuana legislation:

“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach. Allow me to lay them out.”

Biden’s first step was to pardon the few federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, saying “Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives – for conduct that is legal in many states. That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today we right those wrongs.”

Insert whatever generic hero track here, right?

His second step is a call for governors to do the same at the state level. His third step is to initiate an administrative review of federal marijuana scheduling saying, “We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin, and more serious fentanyl. It makes no sense.” Now that, we can agree with.

The executive order pardons citizens and lawful permanent residents convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law and D.C. statute. However, the key word here is “simple,” as it further polarizes a community already largely affected by the government’s intervention with all matters cannabis.

The wording Biden uses is very interesting. It’s limited to folks with that one charge. One has to wonder: What about individuals affected by the fruit of the poisonous tree? The federal government usually charges marijuana cases as conspiracies, meaning there’s nothing simple about the charge. Fruit from the poisonous tree refers to charges added as a result of being pulled over or arrested for marijuana. This could include an “intent to distribute” charge tacked on or even a “resisting arrest” if your arresting officer was an asshole. Those, and the sentences born from those, will not be pardoned.

6,500 pardons is nothing compared to the millions of people still serving time for convictions. People are still locked up. If Biden truly cared about those in prison, he’d release them. Descheduling marijuana is not the best path to reshaping federal policy. Marijuana’s scheduling needs to be removed from law completely, opening up new possibilities for nationwide legislation in areas such as banking, truly giving those most affected a fair shot.

On October 24th, cannabis activist and dispensary pioneer Steve D’Angelo announced a call to pull up to the White House and demand that Biden keep true to the promise he made last election cycle to release prisoners serving time for marijuana offenses. If you will be in the DC area, your voice is needed.

Although this is a good first step, there are many more steps that can be taken if the country wants to begin to try to rectify they harm they’ve caused and continue to cause to Black and brown communities.

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