President Biden will pardon all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, the White House said Thursday, a move toward decriminalizing the drug.
The move applies to those convicted of simple possession of marijuana, including those in the District of Columbia, according to senior officials. The White House noted that people of color and White people use marijuana at similar rates, but that “black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
“As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden tweeted Thursday. “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 begin to right these wrongs.”
The pardons will help people with simple marijuana possession convictions overcome obstacles to finding a job or renting a home, 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,” he said. “My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.
In addition to the pardons, Biden urged governors to follow suit regarding state marijuana offenses and instructed Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to begin reviewing how marijuana is classified under federal drug laws.
“The federal government currently classifies marijuana as a “schedule one” substance, the same as heroin and LSD – and more serious than fentanyl,” said Biden. “It makes no sense.”
The move mirrors that of big cities like New York that have moved toward decriminalizing low-level marijuana arrests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.