“We are working on” fulfilling the commitment to free prisoners from marijuana

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PResident Joe Biden says his administration is “working” on plans to fulfill his campaign promise to free those incarcerated on marijuana charges. This is the first time the president has publicly made a substantive comment on cannabis policy since taking office more than a year ago.

“I don’t think anyone should be in jail for using marijuana,” Biden said on the evening of July 16, in response to a question from the New York Postby Steven Nelson after leaving Marine One on the White House lawn.

“We are currently working on the crime bill,” the president said. added…although it is unclear which legislation he was referring to.

White House press staff did not respond to a request for clarification at press time.

The president has received numerous calls from lawmakers and advocates for executive action on marijuana reform, with many specifically urging him to use his authority to issue mass pardons to those convicted of nonviolent federal cannabis.

But while Biden had previously remarked on the campaign trail that he doesn’t think people should be jailed on simple marijuana charges, he’s taken only limited steps to begin granting such relief since his input function. In April, he granted clemency to 78 peoplewhich included a handful of commutations for those convicted of cannabis-related charges.

Prior to this action, the President had reserved his power of pardon for turkeys that were ceremonially spared around Thanksgiving.

Of course, this falls far short of the massive pardons lawmakers and advocates have been calling for, but it was seen as a positive step. Prior to this action, the President had reserved his power of pardon for the ceremonially spared turkeys around Thanksgiving.

Following this ceremony, the Job‘s Nelson pressed the president on cannabis leniency, asking if there were plans to pardon “anyone besides the turkeys.” Biden jokingly replied, “You need a pardon?” and did not answer a follow-up question about marijuana prisoners. So far, that was the extent of Biden’s comments on cannabis issues since the 2020 election.

Over the months under the Biden administration, there have been growing frustration with executive inactionmany wonder why the president has been slow to take a step that would arguably earn him bipartisan praise at a time when his approval ratings remain low.

Biden received a dozen letters of legislators, defenderscelebrities and people affected by criminalization for do something about people who remain behind federal bars because of cannabis.

Six senators – including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) – sent a letter to Biden earlier this month expressing their frustration with the decision administration. ‘failure’ to meaningfully address the harms of marijuana criminalization and use the clemency power of the executive to change course.

They wrote that the administration’s current stance “harms thousands of Americans, slows research, and robs Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes.”

The recently appointed U.S. pardon attorney also recently weighed in on the prospects of massive cannabis leniencynarrative Marijuana Time that his office handles matters independently, but could be empowered to issue broader commutations or pardons if the president so orders.

In light of Biden’s new comments, it appears the pressure campaign is poised to deliver results, though details on timing and scope remain unclear.

During a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing in May, Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and other Democratic lawmakers stressed the need to reform the federal clemency processcalling for the streamlining of applications to make it easier to get relief for those convicted of nonviolent federal drug offenses.

Late last year, a coalition of congressional lawmakers introduced the Fair and Independent Clemency Experts Act (FIX Clemency), a bill that would withdraw clemency review from Department of Justice and instead establish an independent board appointed by the president.

A report released last year by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) claimed that the president had the power to grant mass pardons for cannabis-related convictions. He also said the administration can move to federal cannabis legalization without waiting for lawmakers to act.

The White House has been repeatedly asked about the issue. Former press secretary Jen Psaki had said the president had “full intentions of using his power of clemency” and was “considering” relief for non-violent drug convictions.

Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), said last month that the Biden administration was “monitor” states that have legalized marijuana to inform federal policy, recognizing the failures of the current prohibitionist approach.

Against the backdrop of these administrative developments, congressional lawmakers have continued to work legislatively to end the criminalization of cannabis.

Biden has maintained a firm opposition to the legalization of adult marijuana, so it remains an open question what he would do if the legislation reached his office.

A Senate bill to legalize marijuana federally and promote social equity, which was first introduced last year, could finally be introduced as early as this weeksaid two congressional sources familiar with the planning Marijuana Time the 15th of July. The House passed a similar law on the legalization for the second time in April.

Additionally, there are reportedly plans underway to an alternative omnibus cannabis reform package if broad legalization does not garner enough support to be enacted. The offices of both chambers are reportedly discussing a plan to advance what would effectively be a marijuana minibus of progressive reforms, addressing issues such as cannabis banking protections, access to the Small Business Administration (SBA) program and the research on marijuana, for example, but stopping short of deprogramming cannabis.

Biden has maintained a firm opposition to the legalization of adult marijuana, so it remains an open question what he would do if comprehensive reform legislation reached his office. But in the meantime, advocates will take whatever victories they can get from the historically prohibitionist president, which is why his brief statement about actively working on clemency is noteworthy.


Photograph of Biden in 2019 by Gage Skidmore via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

This story was originally posted by Marijuana Time, that follows cannabis and drug policy and politics. Follow Marijuana Time on Twitter and Facebookand subscribe to his newsletter.

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