US President Joe Biden is pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana under federal law.
His administration has taken a dramatic step towards decriminalising the drug and addressing charging practices that disproportionately impact people of colour.
Biden’s move also covers thousands convicted of the crime in the District of Columbia. He is also calling on governors to issue similar pardons for those convicted of state marijuana offences, which reflect the vast majority of marijuana possession cases.
In a statement, Biden said the move reflects his position that “no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana”.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” he added. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
According to the White House, no one is currently in federal prison solely for “simple possession” of the drug, but the pardon could help thousands overcome obstacles to renting a home or finding a job.
“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.”
Biden is also directing the secretary of Health and Human Services and the US Attorney General to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Rescheduling the drug would reduce or potentially eliminate criminal penalties for possession.
But Biden said he believes that as the federal government and many states ease marijuana laws, they should maintain limitations on trafficking, marketing and underage sales.
The move by Biden puts the federal government on par with other big cities such as New York that have been moving toward decriminalising low-level marijuana arrests for years. But there is a big divide in the nation as some police departments still believe the drug leads to more serious crime and ignoring low-level offences emboldens criminals.
The move also fulfills one of the top priorities of the Democratic nominee in one of their party’s most critical Senate races, as Pennsylvania Lt Gov John Fetterman has repeatedly pressed Biden to take the step.