Biden pardons and reduces prison terms of non-violent drug offenders News
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Biden pardons and reduces prison terms of non-violent drug offenders

US President Joe Biden reduced eleven non-violent drug prison terms and pardoned potentially thousands of marijuana possession offenses under federal law or in Washington, DC on Friday.

Biden used his pardon power authority under Article II of the US Constitution to pardon the offenders. This power is limited to federal offenses, and the president cannot pardon offenders under state law. In addition to reducing 11 prison sentences, Biden stated:

Second, following my pardon of prior federal and D.C. offenses of simple possession of marijuana, I am issuing a Proclamation that will pardon additional offenses of simple possession and use of marijuana under federal and D.C. law. Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs.

The US Sentencing Commission published a report earlier this year on the impact of simple possession of marijuana in the federal system. The report found that possession sentencing rates have dropped over recent years. However, prior possession offenses often impact an individual’s sentencing score for other offenses.

In response to Biden’s actions, Vice President Kamal Harris stated:

President Biden and I have been clear: We must continue to change our nation’s approach to marijuana and reform the criminal justice system. As I have declared many times before, no one should be in prison simply for smoking weed. That is why we continue to call on Governors to join us in this long-overdue work.

This is not the only time Biden has used his pardon power on non-violent drug offenses. In 2022, Biden pardoned “all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.” Marijuana is illegal under US federal law under the Controlled Substances Act. Under the act, marijuana is a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is classified at the level of the most dangerous substances. Drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine are classified at a lower level but drive the current overdose epidemic in the US. Congress has attempted to decriminalize marijuana in the past, but no law has been passed.

While marijuana is illegal under federal law, states have legalized the drug under state law. Currently, 23 states, two territories and Washington DC have legalized recreational use of marijuana. Additionally, 27 states and DC have decriminalized specific amounts of marijuana, and most states have record-clearing laws that may apply to marijuana offenses. In October, a coalition of cannabis companies in Massachusetts sued to challenge the federal prohibition on marijuana as it applies to individual states.