President Joe Biden announced Thursday a new initiative to pardon many federal prisoners convicted of simple possession of marijuana.
Senior administration officials speaking on background noted the president has often said no one should be in prison just for possessing or using marijuana.
“It has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that is legal in many states,” Biden said. “And while white, Black, and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are disproportionately in jail for it.”
The president announced a three-pronged approach to the perceived problem of over punishing marijuana users.
First, Biden will pardon all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, according to the officials. The pardon will also apply to the District of Columbia. Officials estimated 6,500 individuals would benefit from the presidential pardons.
“There are thousands of people with prior federal convictions for marijuana possession who may be denied housing, employment, or educational opportunities as a result,” Biden said. “This pardon will help relieve those collateral consequences.”
Second, Biden is urging governors act similarly with regard to state offenses of simple possession of marijuana.
Third, he will direct the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the attorney general to expeditiously review how marijuana is treated under federal law.
The Controlled Substances Act currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which is the classification for LSD and heroin. Marijuana’s classification is higher that that of fentanyl and meth, drugs responsible for a lion’s share of U.S. drug overdoses.
Detractors wonder how many of the thousands expected to be pardoned were actually guilty of greater crimes that were pled down to the lesser offense of possession.
“95% of the time, federal prosecutors engage in plea bargaining,” Paul Larkin, senior legal research fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, told The Daily Wire. “Is it possible or likely people are going to benefit from this who don’t deserve it because they actually were accused of a more serious crime?”
“Damn right there is.”
Larkin spent nearly a decade investigating and prosecuting criminal cases for the Department of Justice. He has also held responsible positions for other federal and congressional investigative agencies for years.
“You are going to have a very large number of people affected by this who were charged with something far more serious so that the government had leverage to get them to cooperate, and then they pled it down to a simple misdemeanor possession,” Larkin said.
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