Biden Grants Pardons And Commutations To People With Marijuana Convictions
U.S. President Joe Biden issued on Tuesday, April 26, three pardons and 75 prison sentence commutations who were previously released to home confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic in his first-year grants of clemency since taking office.
One of the pardons was related to non-violent marijuana offenses, and eight people with marijuana-related convictions received commutations. Overall, nine of the people that have been granted clemency were charged with marijuana.
“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation. During Second Chance Month, I am using my authority under the Constitution to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow Americans,” Biden said in a statement.
“Today, I am pardoning three people who have demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities. I am also commuting the sentences of 75 people who are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses, many of whom have been serving on home confinement during the COVID-pandemic—and many of whom would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, thanks to the bipartisan First Step Act,” he added.
While a pardon deletes a conviction, a commutation keeps the conviction but deletes or lowers the punishment.
Around 8,300 federal inmates were allowed to temporarily transition to home confinement amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
This is the first time President Biden granted clemency to people with non-violent federal drug convictions on their records.
Since he took office, advocates and lawmakers have pressed the administration to grant pardons to them.
According to New York Post, over 2,700 people are in federal prisons for non-violent marijuana offenses.
While it’s not the mass pardon for people criminalized over marijuana that activists expected, it’s a step toward fulfilling a campaign pledge that Biden repeatedly made while running for president.
However, even though both Democrats and Republicans support a policy change, Biden opposes recreational marijuana legalization at the federal level, contrary to his support over federal decriminalization of marijuana and expungements highlighted when running for president against former President Donald Trump in 2020.
While marijuana advocates and organizations recognized a step forward to the expungement of marijuana-related criminal records, they were left disappointed by the only nine clemencies granted to non-violent -marijuana-related convictions.
“While granting clemency to nine individuals for federal marijuana offenses is the right thing to do, it is woefully inadequate when there remain over 10,000 individuals who still suffer under the weight of a federal charge on their criminal record,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a press statement.
In an interview with Marijuana Moment, marijuana advocate Weldon Angelos said he had a meeting at the White House to discuss clemency matters, especially for those incarcerated for cannabis offenses and those out on CARES Act. He believes President Biden will keep his campaign pledge to grant categorical clemency for cannabis offenders.
“We will continue urging the president to grant clemency to the 2,700 people incarcerated for cannabis-only offenses, as he promised when he was running for president. And we are grateful for the opportunity to meet with the president’s team to share our ideas,” he told Marijuana Moment.
Since Biden took office, he has received several letters from lawmakers, advocates, and celebrities that asked him to take action to grant clemencies to people charged with federal marijuana offenses.
Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tried to push Biden to issue mass pardons over federal marijuana records in. November 2021.
Although Biden can unilaterally issue a mass pardon for people with federal cannabis convictions, he has yet to honor his pledge during the 2020 election campaign.
On April 20, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing that President Biden remains committed to honoring his campaign pledge to release everyone in federal prison for marijuana. She remarked that President Biden believes that no one should be in jail because of drug use, but she had no further updates, and the administration is working with Congress.
In addition to the clemency grants, President Biden also announced several reentry initiatives funded by the administration’s second chance proposal. These reentry programs and services aim to give second chances to those previously incarcerated.
According to the federal U.S. Sentencing Commission (USCC) analysis, federal prosecutions over marijuana dropped again in 2021. There were 996 federal marijuana trafficking cases last year.