Updated: Dec 7, 2022
On October 24, 2022 Reason Magazine published an article entitled "Biden's Marijuana Pardons Did Not Free a Single Federal Prisoner or Deliver the Expungement He Promised" that explored the results of the early October announcement by the Biden Administration with respect to a review and potential revision of federal cannabis policy in the United States.
"Biden's October 6 proclamation applied only to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents convicted of simple marijuana possession under the Controlled Substances Act or the District of Columbia Code," reported the magazine, noting the important fact that no member of this group is still incarcerated. "Biden's action will not release a single federal prisoner," wrote the article.
Cannabis Politics Reality Check
It cited a 2021 report from Recidiviz that stated that "more than 3,000 individuals are currently serving marijuana-related sentences in federal prison." The recent Recidiviz report estimated that ending federal cannabis prohibition, "a step that Biden has steadfastly resisted," would result in a reduction in the federal prison population of more than 2,800 people.
"Biden's recent executive order...will not release a single one of the nearly 2,800 federal cannabis prisoners," stated the letter.
The article also quoted a letter sent to the Biden Administration by 16 drug policy reform groups on October 10 that told the beleaguered U.S. President that his October 6 executive order, "while a great first step, did nothing to address the thousands of cannabis prisoners currently incarcerated in federal prison."
2,800 Cannabis Prisoners—None Released
"Your recent executive order...will not release a single one of the nearly 2,800 federal cannabis prisoners," stated the letter. It noted that thousands of Americans are serving long-term prison sentences, including life sentences, in federal prisons "for conduct involving amounts of cannabis that are far less than what dispensaries routinely handle on a daily basis."
The article noted that the logic behind the Biden Administration's definitions of "simple possession" and "other marijuana offenses" is confusing. "He says marijuana use should not be treated as a crime. Yet he is willing to let individuals...languish in prison merely for helping people use marijuana, which today is recognized as a legitimate business in most states, 19 of which allow recreational as well as medical use," reported the magazine.
It noted that this confusion is only increased when one considers that Biden "has acknowledged the injustice of long prison terms for growing or distributing marijuana in particular cases" and that he announced 75 commutations in April 2022.
Expungement Beyond Presidential Powers
"No one should be in jail because of marijuana," Biden said during his campaign for president. He promised, if elected, to "decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions." However, Reason reports that Biden's mass pardon "did not accomplish either of those things, which are beyond Biden's powers as president."
According to the law firm Harris Bricken, the Biden proclamation "doesn't expunge the underlying convictions at issue or clear anyone's record."
Turns out that reality is quite different than campaign rhetoric in terms of Biden's ability to actually live up to his promises. For those who do not meet the law's "narrow criteria," expungement would require a new law to be passed by Congress.
According to the law firm Harris Bricken, the Biden proclamation "doesn't expunge the underlying convictions at issue or clear anyone's record." The law firm noted that pardon recipients "find themselves in a similar spot today as prior to October 6" due to the fact that they remain "convicted criminals of record and will be for the foreseeable future."
With Biden's promise to expunge marijuana records beyond his power, many elements of his October 6 announcement are questionable or simply false, unfortunately. "He claimed that 'my action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.' Yet without expungement, people still have to report those convictions when they apply for jobs or housing," reported the magazine. Such federal criminal records can also make college students ineligible for financial aid and other benefits.
The article concluded that, while the Biden Administration lacks the power to expunge federal cannabis prosecution records, the President does possess the power to influence legislation that eliminates such records. "But like freedom for federal marijuana prisoners and decriminalization of possession, the expungement Biden promised seems to have fallen by the wayside," summarized the article.
View the original article.
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