“There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden,” Biden said in a statement.
Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor that can land a person up to one year in jail on the first offense, two years in jail on the second offense, and three years in jail for each subsequent offense.
Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I is the highest classification, reserved for drugs that have “a high potential for abuse” and for which there is no accepted medical use, according to the Controlled Substance Act.
But a growing number of states have decriminalized marijuana possession and other marijuana-related offenses in recent years, and federal officials rarely bring federal charges against people who are violating federal law.
“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said.
Anthony Coley, a Department of Justice spokesman, said the agency will “expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation” and start implementing a process that will provide the relevant people with certificates of pardon.
Biden’s proclamation makes clear that the pardons do not apply to any other offense, and do not apply to non-citizens who weren’t legally present in the United States at the time they possessed marijuana.
Along with his pardon of federal-level offenses, Biden is urging governors across the country to pardon state-level marijuana possession charges.
He also asked Health Secretary Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland, both Biden appointees, to start a review of how marijuana is classified.