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President Joe Biden is again touting his mass marijuana pardon from last year, referencing the act of clemency at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards ceremony.
“I’m keeping my promise that no one—no one—should be in jail merely for the use or possession of marijuana. God Almighty,” the president exclaimed. “And those who are in jail, they’re going to be released and the records are going to be expunged.”
The speech at the event with Black lawmakers is just the latest example of Biden proudly promoting the cannabis clemency move as part of his criminal justice reform achievements. Although, he again overstated its impact, as the pardon only impacted about 6,500 people who’ve committed federal marijuana offenses, and none of them were released from prison.
There are also still an estimated 2,800 people currently in federal prison for marijuana convictions that aren’t limited to simple possession. Multiple groups, including immigrants and those who’ve been charged with selling marijuana, were excluded from the presidential pardon.
The limited clemency action also falls short of Biden’s campaign pledge to federally decriminalize marijuana and legalize medical cannabis.
That said, the president’s consistent publicity of the cannabis clemency move does seem to speak to his understanding of the popularity of the issue, and the administration has often promoted in targeted ways that are meant to appeal to young people and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by criminalization.
For example, the White House recently cited the mass pardon, as well as the ongoing federal marijuana scheduling review that Biden directed, as part of a “Fight for Our Freedom” campaign meant to “mobilize young people” as next year’s election approaches.
In June, Biden marked the holiday Juneteenth by issuing a proclamation that promoted his mass marijuana pardon and scheduling review directive.
The White House also argued that the president’s pardons could lift social and economic barriers as part of a factsheet that was released ahead of Biden’s State of the Union address in February.
Also that month, the president separately signed an executive order on promoting equity within the White House and federal agencies that also mentioned the earlier marijuana pardons.
Biden issued a proclamation declaring April “Second Chance Month” for people who have served time in prison, and in the document he took the opportunity to promote his marijuana pardons and address the collateral consequences of cannabis convictions.
In July, The White House drug czar said that the president’s marijuana reform actions last year were part of an effort to create cohesive cannabis policy within a patchwork of state legalization models.
The Justice Department has also started issuing marijuana pardon certifications to provide people with documentation that they’re received the formal forgiveness.
Meanwhile, Biden’s scheduling review directive recently resulted in a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is now carrying out its own review before making a final decision, and congressional researchers have said it’s “likely” they will adhere to the HHS recommendation.
As the federal agencies have worked to complete the review, two GOP senators filed new legislation last week to prevent the administration from rescheduling cannabis without tacit approval from Congress.
Biden hasn’t personally commented on HHS’s rescheduling recommendation, but the White House press secretary did say last month that the president has been “very clear” that he’s “always supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.”
Of course, it’s not accurate to say that Biden has “always” backed cannabis reform. As a senator he championed several pieces of legislation that ramped up the war on drugs.