Biden Pardons People Convicted of Marijuana Possession to Americans’ Liking

By announcing a pardon for people convicted of possessing marijuana, Joe Biden stressed that he had fulfilled a 2020 campaign promise. Democrats hope this will strengthen their prospects before the midterms.

Joe Biden has pardoned more than 6,500 people convicted of marijuana possession. This is another step toward legalizing the “soft” drug, which the U.S. has increasingly accepted as relatively harmless. It’s also a policy-driven move that could help Democrats ahead of upcoming congressional and state elections.

People Convicted of Drug Possession Will Be Removed from Civil Restriction Lists

The pardon applies to anyone convicted under federal law. However, the majority of drug possession convictions are handed down by state courts. Those pardoned have already dealt with the penalties; there is no one serving a federal prison sentence in the U.S for marijuana possession. But possession convictions create problems with seeking employment or renting an apartment. The pardon will erase these sentences.*

Biden has also announced he will review the government classification of marijuana, which is treated as a Schedule I drug along with heroin, LSD, amphetamines and fentanyl, dangerous and highly addictive substances. Meanwhile, experts agree that the potentially negative effects of marijuana use are much weaker than those of “hard” drugs.

Americans Like Marijuana

According to a Gallup poll, 68% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. It is already legal in 37 states for medical purposes, and in 19 for recreational use. What’s more, a Gallup poll conducted a few months ago showed that more Americans use marijuana than smoke cigarettes (16% vs. 11%). Marijuana is prevalent among young people, and its use is increasing — from 29% in 2011 to 43% in 2021 among the youngest groups.

By announcing a pardon for people convicted of possessing marijuana, Biden stressed that he had fulfilled a 2020 campaign promise. Democrats hope this will strengthen their prospects before the midterms. Activists have long called for the relaxation of drug restrictions. Although the rates of marijuana use are roughly the same among whites, Blacks and Latinos, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately more likely than whites to be arrested and convicted. Cracking down on drug use has intensified since 1994 when Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, tightening penalties for drug possession and trafficking, along with other restrictions.

By the way, Biden himself, a Democratic senator at the time, voted for the act in 1994, and consequently, a great number of people are serving long sentences for nonviolent crimes. Black people are overrepresented here because they cannot afford good lawyers and are often defended by court-appointed, second-rate lawyers.

Will Biden Help the Democrats?

Because of the racial aspects involved in prosecuting drug possession, Biden’s decision is widely viewed as a move to draw participation from African American and Latino voters, key segments of the Democratic Party’s base, in the midterms. According to the polls, support for Democrats in both groups has declined in recent months. Party strategists fear they might not vote on Nov. 8, when Americans will elect new members of Congress, state legislatures and governors. Non-presidential elections tend to have lower turnout. Pardoning more than 6,500 people, mostly from minorities, might increase that turnout somewhat. Democrats hope that the pardon, viewed as a step toward full decriminalization of marijuana, will also mobilize young voters, a group most interested in lifting restrictions.

On the other hand, the pardon could strengthen the Republicans’ argument that Biden and his party are soft on crime, which has risen sharply in recent years. The threat of lawlessness and insecurity is, along with inflation, the GOP’s main focus in the campaign. What’s more, Republicans are likely to emphasize that they are seeking to reduce federal sentencing terms and in turn reduce the prison population. A law to that effect was passed during Donald Trump’s administration, and on his last day in office, the president himself pardoned 12 people convicted of marijuana possession.

Polls and analyses indicate that after the November elections, Republicans will regain the majority in the House of Representatives and may also take control of the Senate.

*Editor’s Note: A pardon forgives a crime but does not absolve guilt or erase a conviction from one’s record. The pardon removes certain civil restrictions on the right to vote, hold office or sit on a jury.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply