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// October 05, 2023 //

decoding president biden’s marijuana reform moves






On October 6th, 2022, President Biden released a sweet pre-Halloween surprise — a presidential proclamation issuing a full, complete, and unconditional pardon of federal convictions for simple marijuana possession offenses. Delicious! 

After the initial stir fizzled out, there hasn’t been much coverage on what this proclamation does and doesn’t do, who it has affected, and what it could mean in the future. In the immortal words of 4 Non Blondes — “What’s going on!?”

explain it like I’m five: what is a pardon?

Pardon me for eating the last sleeve of Oreos. Forgive me?
Like your actions toward your cookie-crushing roommate, a pardon is all about forgiveness. In this case, forgiveness from the President of the United States. 

A pardon doesn’t mean innocence or that a conviction gets expunged. 
What it does mean is that certain restrictions and barriers imposed on someone because of a conviction are lifted. Think of restrictions on the right to vote, hold office, or sit on a jury, as well as difficulties renting a home or getting a driver’s license, job, or loan.

what biden’s marijuana proclamation does

It pardons all current U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have committed the act of “simple possession” of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

Urges state governors to do the same with state offenses.

That last one is a biggie. Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, the category reserved for the most dangerous substances. Case in point: Heroin and LSD are Schedule I, and this classification rates even HIGHER than fentanyl and methamphetamine. Insanity, no?

what biden’s marijuana proclamation doesn’t do

At the time of Biden’s proclamation, there were no people in federal prison due to simple marijuana possession. The proclamation applies only to federal convictions, including D.C. Code offenses. It does not apply to convictions under state or local law — which make up the majority of simple marijuana possession convictions. While the proclamation encourages state governors to act similarly, it doesn’t force them to. 

Until that happens, there are plenty of folks whose ability to pursue their American dream will remain hobbled due to simple marijuana possession; and that just ain’t right. The hope is that this first federal step will usher in a wave of state-led efforts to close the book on “reefer madness” mentality for good. 

The proclamation also doesn’t extend to the future. Only people charged on or before 10/6/2022 are pardoned. After that, you could get charged again.

so what’s in the works now?

It can feel like true progress moves at a glacial pace, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Since October of 2022, a handful of states have started movin’ and shakin’:

Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced in November — just a month after Biden’s federal pardon — that she was pardoning an estimated 45,000 constituents convicted of simple possession of marijuana. 

The governors of Washington, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Colorado, and Illinois have also taken steps to grant pardons to people with low-level marijuana convictions. 

Maryland and Missouri voters legalized cannabis in November 2022. Maryland’s initiative came with a cherry on top — by July 1, 2024, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services will expunge all cases from before July 1, 2023, in which cannabis possession was the only charge. 

The magical month of November also saw Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear sign an executive order relaxing the prohibition on medical cannabis use. 

In January 2023, Connecticut kicked off the first round of recreational cannabis sales for adults 21 and older less than two years after Governor Ned Lamont signed legislation legalizing retail sales.

Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota has stated one of the first bills of 2023 he plans to sign is one legalizing recreational marijuana.

Not gonna lie; these are some big baby steps!

Read the proclamation here and President Biden’s statement here.

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