The ACLU says Black people are three times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana in the U.S. even though they use pot at about the same rate.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — President Biden is pardoning all Americans who’ve been convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law.
He made the announcement Thursday but the proclamation does not apply to convictions under state or local law.
“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” said Biden in a statement on marijuana reform. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit.”
Biden is urging all governors to pardon people convicted of state charges too, which make up for the vast majority of marijuana possession convictions. He’s also asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.
Currently marijuana is classified as a “Schedule 1” drug — along with LSD, ecstasy and heroin — under the Controlled Substances Act, which Biden says “makes no sense.”
“The Justice Department will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted of that offense,” said Anthony Coley, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice. “In coming days, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will begin implementing a process to provide impacted individuals with certificates of pardon.”
Maisha Bahati is the CEO of Crystal Nugs, the first Black and women-owned cannabis delivery service in Sacramento.
Bahati says she founded the business in 2019 to help give others a chance through employment and other business opportunities. That includes hiring people in historically marginalized communities impacted the most by the federal criminalization of marijuana.
“By me succeeding, I’m able to offer opportunities to those that would not normally have a way into this industry,” said Bahati. “I have had family members arrested for marijuana possession as well as an employee. They did have a felony for marijuana. A month after we hired them, we got a notice that we had to let them go because of the felony.”
Bahati says she worked with the city of Sacramento to help keep the person employed at the cannabis business. But she says she now understands “how difficult it is for others to navigate due to a felony conviction for marijuana.”
Even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, Biden made clear that he wants limitations on trafficking, marketing and under-age sales to stay in place. He also highlighted the racial disparities in marijuana arrests, charges and convictions nationwide.
“Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” said Biden. “And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was founded in 1920 with a mission “to work in the courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
According to a 2020 report by the ACLU, Black people are three times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana in the U.S. even though both groups use pot at about the same rate. In states that legalized marijuana, arrest rates decreased after legalization but racial disparities still remained.
Additional research from UC Davis Center for Regional Change shows police arrested Black people four times more than white people for marijuana in California between 1996 and 2016. Black people were arrested nearly 30 times more than white people during the same time period in Sacramento.
Yvette McDowell is a lawyer with 30 years of municipal government experience. She provides consultation to city and county municipal governments on proposed regulation about the cannabis industry, as well as the creation and correct implementation of social equity plans.
McDowell is also an active board member with the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA). The association helps to amplify the voices of 500 cannabis businesses with nearly 1,500 employees across the state.
“Cannabis arrests and convictions fall predominately on African Americans and Latinos,” said McDowell. “There can be many reasons for that. We have to go back and look at the historical context of what has happened when it comes to policing and people of color in our history. Cannabis convictions can result in a person not being able to get student loans, an apartment or a job. So, it’s a lot of that now, that will be lifted with the pardons.”
Biden’s executive action will benefit 6,500 people with federal convictions from 1992 to 2021 and thousands of others charged under the District of Columbia’s criminal code, according to senior administration officials. Elaborating on the number of people affected, officials say “there are no individuals currently in federal prison solely for simple possession of marijuana.”
“My first thoughts were, it’s about time,” said Bahati. “It is a huge step in the industry because it lets people know that we are a legitimate business. It also helps to break the stigmas and taboo of a cannabis business.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is offering the below information regarding the presidential proclamation on marijuana possession:
- What does this mean for those with federal marijuana possession convictions? Under President Biden’s proclamation, individuals with qualifying convictions are fully pardoned for their marijuana possession offense. The pardon applies only to the qualifying offense of simple possession of marijuana and not to any other offense(s) for which the individual has been charged or convicted.
- What is a pardon? A pardon is an expression of the President’s forgiveness. It does not signify innocence or expunge the conviction. However, it does remove civil disabilities — such as restrictions on the right to vote, to hold office, or to sit on a jury — that are imposed because of the pardoned conviction. It may also be helpful in obtaining licenses, bonding, or employment.
- How can I prove that I have been pardoned? Eligible persons may need proof that President Biden’s proclamation applies to them to achieve the full benefits of a pardon. The President has asked the Attorney General, acting through the Pardon Attorney, to issue those persons certificates to establish proof of pardon. The Office of the Pardon Attorney is currently working to develop procedures for issuing certificates of pardon to eligible individuals soon.
- How can I get a certificate of pardon? The Office of the Pardon Attorney will make available a short application form for individuals seeking a certificate of pardon, along with instructions for completing the application. They will make this form available as quickly as they can.
- When can I apply for my certificate of pardon? The office cannot accept applications or issue certificates of pardon until our official procedures have been announced. We encourage you please to check https://www.justice.gov/pardon for additional guidance in the near future.
- Does the proclamation apply to convictions under state law? No. President Biden’s proclamation does not pardon convictions under state law, but it does apply to possession of marijuana convictions under the District of Columbia’s criminal code.
- Does the proclamation apply to all types of federal marijuana offenses? No. President Biden’s proclamation applies only to simple possession of marijuana offenses. Conspiracy, distribution, possession with intent to distribute and other charges involving marijuana are not pardoned by the proclamation.
- Do I qualify for a pardon if I was convicted under 21 U.S.C. § 844 of possessing marijuana and another drug in a single offense? No. The proclamation does not apply to persons who were convicted of possessing multiple different controlled substance in the same offense. For example, if you were convicted of possessing marijuana and cocaine in a single offense, you do not qualify for pardon under the terms of President Biden’s proclamation. If you were convicted of one count of simple possession of marijuana and a second count of possession of cocaine, President Biden’s proclamation applies only to the simple possession of marijuana count and not the possession of cocaine count.
- Does the proclamation apply to charges that are currently pending as of Oct. 6, 2022? Yes. President Biden’s proclamation applies if the qualifying offense occurred on or before Oct. 6, 2022, even if a conviction has not been obtained by that date.
- Does the proclamation protect me from being charged with marijuana possession in the future? No. The proclamation pardons only those offenses occurring on or before Oct. 6, 2022. It does not have any effect on marijuana possession offenses occurring after Oct. 6, 2022.
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