A Federal Pardon for Marijuana Possession and What it Means for You

Sara Lucas Dec. 21, 2022

On October 6, 2022, President Biden announced a three-step plan that opens the door for marijuana reform, both federally and at the state level. It is no secret that the illegality of marijuana has cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of individuals their freedom in more ways than one since Nixon’s War on Drugs campaign began in 1971. It is also no secret that those affected by the war on drugs are mostly people of color. President Biden acknowledges this in the statement he issued on October 6th when he says, “…while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”[1]

President Biden believes that his three-step plan is the beginning of the end of this disproportionate treatment. So let’s get into it…

Step one of his plan is to pardon all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana. President Biden directed the Attorney General to develop a process issuing certificates of pardon to all eligible individuals. Now, you might be asking yourself what is simple possession and am I eligible? To be convicted of simple possession of marijuana, the federal government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant had in his or her complete control less than 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of marijuana. Now, are YOU eligible for the pardon? To be eligible, you must have been convicted (through a finding of guilty at trial or by pleading guilty as a result of plea negotiations) or have pending charges at the federal level prior to or on October 6, 2022. The pardon only applies to simple possession, so if you were also convicted for conspiracy, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute, then those charges will not be pardoned. The pardon also does not apply to you if you were convicted of simple possession of marijuana and another drug in the same offense. For example, if you were convicted for simple possession of marijuana and simple possession of cocaine in the same incident, you are not eligible for a pardon.[2]

Step two of President Biden’s marijuana reform plan is to urge all State Governors to do the same regarding state offenses. As I am sure you can guess, the states have had some mixed feelings about this. States like Mississippi and Texas, were too eager to say things like, “[we are] not in the habit of taking criminal justice advice from [the] leader of the defund the police party.”[3] In Illinois, on the other hand, Governor J.B. Pritzker has already issued more than 11,000 pardons for low-level cannabis convictions since January 2020, getting a two year jump on President Biden.[4] I am not sure what state you are in while reading this, but if you feel like your Governor should follow President Biden’s reform policy and pardon simple possession, spring into action.  You can  write letters to your local officials or start small lobbying groups and visit your local State Senators and Representatives. It may seem like a huge mountain to climb, but it all starts with you taking that first step.

Step three of President Biden’s plan is to push the Secretary of Health and Human services and the Attorney General to begin a review process of how marijuana is scheduled at the federal level. It is currently a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that it is currently classified as one of the most dangerous substances an individual can use. Not even methamphetamine or fentanyl are schedule 1 drugs, and I don’t think anyone would disagree that those are the drugs driving our overdose epidemic. I believe that President Biden recognizes that marijuana was classified as a schedule 1 drug to further disparage and destroy Black and brown communities, but that is a topic for another post.

If you still have questions or comments about any of this information, please feel free to reach out via the message option on the website and I will be in touch with you as soon as I can. Stay safe out there!