A Statement on President Biden's Pardon of All Federal Offenses of Simple Marijuana Possession

October 13 2022

The Center for Policing Equity (CPE) applauds President Biden's recent steps toward ending the criminalization of marijuana possession and agrees wholeheartedly with his statement that “sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives–for conduct that is legal in many states, [and] that's before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction."

Aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws has forced hundreds of thousands of people, disproportionately Black and Brown people, into the country's criminal legal systems unnecessarily; the President's decision to pardon those convicted of simple marijuana possession at the federal level is a crucial step toward ending that injustice.

U.S. policies concerning marijuana use have long been rooted in racism, beginning with White backlash to early 20th-century Mexican immigration, when concerted efforts were made to link marijuana with "violence, crime, and other socially deviant behaviors"; prohibition soon followed. In the 21st century, young Black and Brown people have often been more likely to be arrested for simple marijuana possession than any other criminal offense, while White people are significantly less likely to be arrested for marijuana possession at all–despite the fact that, as President Biden has noted, "White and Black and Brown people use marijuana at similar rates."

This history and continuing reality highlight the importance of the President's other actions– calling on state governors to take similar steps and launching an administrative review of the federal classification of marijuana as a schedule 1 substance–but serve also to underscore the enormity of the task that remains. Federal pardons can remove many collateral consequences of convictions, for instance, allowing those pardoned to access federal benefits and increasing access to employment and housing, but the vast majority of possession convictions are at the state level. Moreover, pardons do not erase conviction records–that will require the additional step of federal expungement. The White House has hinted at a willingness to take additional steps; we look forward to the opportunity to assess any further plans it may have.

President Biden made history with his Oct 6 announcement, and the lives of thousands of individuals, their families, and communities were forever changed. CPE remains committed to doing the work necessary to ensure that justice is achieved for all those who must still wait.