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Biden to pardon all federal convictions of simple marijuana possession

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President Biden speaking in Poughkeepsie, New York, on Oct. 6. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Thursday he will pardon all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession and will call on governors to pardon simple state possession offenses.

Why it matters: It could amount to "thousands" of pardons, which would remove a burden that may have prevented some people from receiving employment, housing or educational opportunities, Biden said.

  • Biden said he will also ask Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to begin a review of how marijuana is scheduled as a drug under federal law.

What they're saying: "As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana," Biden said in a statement Thursday. "Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach."

  • "Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either," Biden added.
  • "We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense."
  • "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 Justice Department will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted of that offense," DOJ spokesperson Anthony Coley said in a statement.

  • In coming days, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will begin implementing a process to provide impacted individuals with certificates of pardon.
  • “Also, in accordance with the President’s directive, Justice Department officials will work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services as they launch a scientific review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”

The big picture: At least 20 states and the District of Columbia have so far legalized marijuana for non-medical use.

  • The House of Representatives passed a bill earlier this year that would decriminalize cannabis on the federal level and allow for the expungement of some marijuana convictions, though the bill has not moved forward in the Senate.
  • Biden said he opposed the federal legalization of recreation marijuana in 2019 but said he did not believe people should be in jail over marijuana use and supported the federal legalization of medical marijuana.

Go deeper: Legalized marijuana market is now worth $64 billion, according to new report

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details throughout.

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