Biden Breaks Another Promise

( – It has been over four months since President Joe Biden announced his plans to pardon people convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal or D.C. law.

The Justice Department stated that it would “expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation” and begin a process to provide certificates of pardon to impacted individuals, thereby restoring their political, civil, and other rights.

Still, nothing has happened. The application for a certificate of pardon for simple possession of marijuana is still not available, according to the Office of the Pardon Attorney’s website.

The reason for the delay in the pardons is not clear. The Justice Department has not responded to inquiries, but Biden’s promise to pardon people convicted of simple marijuana possession has yet to be fulfilled.

Biden announced the pardons a month before the midterm elections and received positive press coverage, which may have motivated voters who care about drug policy reform.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) estimated that 6,577 U.S. citizens would be eligible for pardons, including those sentenced from 1992 to 2021.

Biden’s proclamation applies to any U.S. citizen who committed the offense of simple possession of marijuana on or before October 6, 2022. The USSC also found 1,122 simple possession cases involving noncitizens legally residing in the United States, with the pardons limited to “lawful permanent residents.”

In total, the pardons could potentially benefit around 10,000 people, including cases before and after the period analyzed by the USSC.

Journalists and activists hailed Biden’s announcement as a significant step forward in America’s approach to marijuana. The media reported that “Biden pardons thousands of people convicted on federal marijuana possession charges” and “Biden pardons thousands convicted of marijuana possession under federal law.” Sixteen drug policy reform groups called it “a great first step” but also noted that it did not address the thousands of federal cannabis prisoners currently incarcerated in federal prisons.

Biden’s proclamation did not include individuals convicted of growing or distributing marijuana and would not free any federal prisoners. Federal convictions account for a small percentage of marijuana possession cases, usually prosecuted under state law. Biden stated that the criminal records of people convicted of “merely using or possessing marijuana” should be “totally expunged.” Still, the pardons would not achieve this as it would require new legislation.

Biden claimed that his action would help relieve the collateral consequences of these convictions, which is plausible to some extent. The Office of the Pardon Attorney notes that a presidential pardon will not remove the conviction from a person’s criminal record. Still, it will facilitate the removal of legal disabilities imposed because of the conviction and could lessen the stigma associated with it. A pardon may also be helpful in obtaining licenses, bonding, or employment, but it is not a guarantee that an employer, landlord, or licensing authority will disregard the conviction.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) notes that the pardon certificate can go a long way in helping people with a conviction avoid the collateral consequences of a criminal record and live a more fulfilling life.

However, pardons must be issued for people to receive this benefit. NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano called Biden’s proclamation “truly historic” but noted that none of the people eligible for pardons had received one yet. Despite Susan Rice, Domestic Policy Council Director, boasting on Twitter that Biden had “addressed our failed approach to marijuana by pardoning all federal and D.C. simple marijuana possession offenses,” the pardons have yet to be granted.