President Joe Biden announced his plan to pardon marijuana possession convictions for those convicted under federal law in an Oct. 6 press release. White House senior administrative officials held a press conference before the announcement, predicting a total of 6,500 citizens would be eligible to have their convictions pardoned.
The White House published Biden’s public announcement stating that thousands of U.S. citizens convicted of marijuana possession are denied public services, employment and academic opportunities.
The pardon only applies to those who were convicted of simple marijuana possession, meaning that those convicted of other marijuana-related charges or the possession of other controlled substances are not eligible for a pardon. Though the pardon also does not include those charged under state marijuana laws, Biden did urge state governors to pardon these individuals in a similar fashion.
Dr. Daniel J. Kruger, investigative researcher at the Population Studies Center Institute for Social Research, has conducted extensive research on cannabis use and said the pardon represents a shift for Biden.
“This is not a battle (Biden) probably wanted to get into or wanted to fight,” Kruger said. “In fact, he’s been kind of on the other side in terms of some of the drug policies that he was supporting earlier in his career when he was a senator. But I think he’s also pragmatic, and he’s just realizing that things are changing. And the federal government needs to respond.”
Kruger said Biden’s decision to pardon marijuana possession charges could be indicative of the decline of the Prohibition era of marijuana regulation. Kruger said the conversation about public health framework for the state-level legalization of medical cannabis wasn’t popular among researchers when he entered the field.
“I would speak to (presenters of research), and I would ask them about the legalization at the state level of medical cannabis,” Kruger said. “I asked them, ‘What’s the public health framework for that?’ And they didn’t really have a response. If anything, if they had any response, it would be something like, ‘Oh, well, we don’t think that’s a good idea,’ or ‘That’s dangerous,’ or ‘We need to do a lot more research before we even know what kind of recommendations or guidance (to make).’”
Marijuana prohibition in the United States started with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. The American Civil Liberties Union reported Black citizens are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white citizens. According to FBI reports of the arrest-to-conviction ratio based on state records, even in states that have legalized marijuana, Black and Brown individuals are disproportionately targeted for these drug offenses, though white citizens consume marijuana at the same rate.
Jazmyn Dior Levine, Ann Arbor Wild Side Smoke Shop employee, said the federal pardon will impact the socio-cultural landscape of Ann Arbor.
“I think it will definitely decrease the criminal aspect,” Levine said. “I feel like (possession) brings in a lot of crime. Especially since that was my first case(I) caught when I was 17. …(The charges) definitely changed my outlook on life. I think with (the pardons) as a long-term thing, it’ll hopefully change the world to be a better place.”
Engineering junior Mustafa Ali said he supported the plan, though he was cognizant of the limitations Biden has at the state level.
“I support (the) marijuana legalization,” Ali said. “I think this is a good stretch of his power to pardon all these people. I do think it’s a little symbolic because a majority of the marijuana convictions are on the state level. It doesn’t go … far enough, but this is kind of the extent of his power.”
Ali also said he believes the decriminalization of marijuana convictions may be the future of the United States.
“My personal belief is that marijuana is going to be legalized within the next decade,” Ali said “I think political winds are shifting, and this is just another avenue for that.”
LSA senior Josh Parness said he believes Biden made the right decision by pardoning the convictions.
“I think he absolutely should pardon the convictions,” Parness said. “I guess with all the states legalizing it, there’s a much greater consciousness about ways where (marijuana) should be accepted or contexts where it should be accepted.”
The Pew Research Center published a report in 2021 finding 91% of Americans support marijuana legalization for medicinal and recreational purposes, the highest amount of support it has seen throughout recorded history. As of now, 12 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 31 states and the District of Columbia, citizens are protected from jail sentences if charged with possession of small amounts.
Kruger said he viewed Biden’s plan as an equity win since the pardons are based on the offense, not the offender.
“This is a step towards equity because it pardons everybody with these convictions,” Kruger said. “I don’t know exactly how federal convictions compare to other convictions. But we do know that minorities are overrepresented in these kinds of convictions compared to both numbers in the population.”
LSA junior Kelyanne Rodriguez-Diaz shared their fears regarding the pardoning process, in which there is little detail regarding who will be pardoned and whether or not the country will witness equitable justice through Biden’s pardoning.
“(The policy) sets a precedent that this is a pardonable offense and might further conversations in the legislature about decriminalizing marijuana,” Rodriguez-Diaz said. “(It) depends on how (Biden) implements it and how it actually ends up working out because he can announce that he’s issuing these pardons, but we have to actually see where it goes from there.”
Daily Staff Contributor Maleny Crespo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org