UPDATED: Biden's Call to Pardon Thousands of Federal Cannabis Offenses Part of Sweeping Policy Reform
The White House; Adobe Stock

UPDATED: Biden's Call to Pardon Thousands of Federal Cannabis Offenses Part of Sweeping Policy Reform

The three-step plan announced Oct. 6 includes a move to pardon all federal simple cannabis possession offenses and a review of how cannabis is scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act.

October 6, 2022

President Joe Biden announced Oct. 6 the first steps toward fulfilling his campaign promise of federal cannabis policy reform.

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

The first step in Biden’s three-step plan is pardoning all federal offenses of the simple possession of cannabis, according to the statement.

“I have directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals,” Biden said. “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, Biden is urging all state governors to pardon state-level offenses of simple cannabis possession.

“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,” he said.

Third, Biden is asking Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to initiate an administrative process to review how cannabis is scheduled under federal law, which currently maintains cannabis as a Schedule I substance alongside heroin, LSD and methamphetamine.

“Finally, even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place,” Biden concluded. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

A senior administration official told CNBC that the pardons also apply to those in the District of Columbia, and that more than 6,500 individuals with prior convictions for simple cannabis possession will be impacted by the pardons in addition to thousands who will be pardoned under D.C. law.

The move prompted public calls for reform across the U.S.

In Pennsylvania: "We're thrilled over here," Christina Kauffman, chief of staff for Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's office, told Cannabis Business Times. "Obviously, something like this is really needed on a federal level. What would be ideal is if we legalized it completely. The lieutenant governor's office is thrilled about this, and it's been a priority of his for a long time." 

Just last month, Fetterman urged Biden to take action on cannabis reform.

This latest announcement follows Biden's statements in April that he would grant clemency to 78 individuals serving time for non-violent drug offenses.

RELATED: Biden Takes First Action on Clemency Powers Since Elected 

The Minority Cannabis Business Association applauded Biden's announcement, with Kaliko Castille, MCBA Board President saying, "First off, we'd like to thank President Biden for stepping up and doing the right thing. No one should be in jail for marijuana and today's announcement is a big first step in righting the decades of wrongs perpetrated on Black and brown communities. We'd like to thank all of the advocates across the country, especially supporters of MCBA for helping to fundamentally shift the dialogue around cannabis legalization to one that centers the experiences of Black and brown communities–who have been (and continue to be) undeniably the target of cannabis prohibition.

"To paraphrase President Biden after the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act, this is a 'BFD'."

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated as more information becomes available. Senior Editor Zach Mentz contributed to this article.