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Justice Department Expects ‘Influx’ Of Marijuana Pardon Certificate Applications, Setting Targets To Quickly Process Requests

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The Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney (PARDON) says it’s expecting an “influx” of applications for marijuana pardon certificates under the president’s clemency actions, and it’s setting a target to process at least 80 percent of them within 30 days of their submission.

In a budget report for the 2025 Fiscal Year, the pardon attorney’s office said it “expects to continue to receive incoming clemency cases,” both from “ordinary case submissions” and through the president’s cannabis pardon proclamations that he issued in 2022 and 2023.

Notably, while the marijuana clemency actions are estimated to have affected about 13,000 people, the office said that, as of February, only 171 certificates have been issued. (An FAQ section on the Justice Department website says it’s issued 184 certificates as of the last update, however.)

“Each certificate is granted to the recipient only after PARDON conducts an investigation to verify that the recipient was pardoned pursuant to the presidential proclamations,” the pardon attorney’s office said in its budget report.

In a recent request to the White House seeking approval to update its data collection process related to marijuana pardon certificates, the DOJ office said that a “reasonable projection” is that there will be “1,500 applicants annually” for the certificates.

The new budget document also shows that the office is setting a target to issue at least 80 percent of marijuana pardon certificates within 30 days of receiving an applications for Fiscal Year 2024.

It’s unclear how PARDON is coming along to that end. It’s been one year since DOJ launched the certification application, so if only 184 have been issued to date, that suggests that either the office is expecting a massive swell in the coming year or that there’s a backlog of pending applications that it is aiming to process at a significantly expedited rate.

DOJ may indeed see a uptick in applications following an event at the White House last month, where Vice President Kamala Harris promoted the clemency act and held a roundtable discussion with pardon recipients who’ve received the DOJ certifications.

One of the individuals who took part in the event was longtime cannabis activist Chris Goldstein, who recently received a pardon certificate from DOJ after being formally forgiven for a 2014 cannabis possession case stemming from a protest advocating for federal marijuana policy reform.

Goldstein told Marijuana Moment that he met with U.S. Pardon Attorney Elizabeth Oyer in advance to go over the logistics of the event. Oyer’s office has been overseeing the clemency certification process.

Also, while President Joe Biden didn’t mention the certifications specifically, he did give the pardons prime-time attention during his State of the Union address last month. However, he again misstated the effect of the pardons, conflating them with expungements even though his action did not seal any records.

His mistaken belief that his marijuana pardons expunged records could end up causing legal issues for recipients, as he not only continues to insist that those cases are sealed but more recently claimed that those who received clemency no longer need to disclose their arrests or convictions on official forms, contrary to the law.

Meanwhile, a coalition of 36 members of Congress recently called on Biden to grant clemency to all Americans currently in federal prison over non-violent cannabis convictions by commuting their sentences, pointing out that the pardons he’s issued to date for simple possession cases did not release a single person from incarceration.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment recently that the president’s clemency should be “extended all the way out, and any unintended or intended consequences of the war on drugs should be dealt with to repair the damage.”

Former Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), however, told Marijuana Moment that he’s been “very pleased” with Biden’s clemency actions, arguing that the president has “taken some pretty, in my opinion, bold steps.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army recently clarified in a branch-wide notice that marijuana possession violations under the military drug code weren’t eligible under the president’s pardons. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) called it a “mistake” to exclude military from the relief.

Also, the governor of Massachusetts announced last month that she is moving to pardon “hundreds of thousands” of people with misdemeanor marijuana convictions on their records, in line with Biden’s push for state-level clemency.


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