United States President Joe Biden has edged closer to decriminalizing marijuana in the country after announcing he’s pardoning thousands of Americans who have been convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana.
Biden said his move comes from the belief that “no-one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana”.
While the White House confirmed no one is in federal prison for “simple possession” of marijuana, the pardon will aid thousands in finding jobs and housing, which was previously challenging.
Biden said the time was right to fix the nation’s laws surrounding the drug.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” he said.
“It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
“There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result,” Biden added.
Supporters have welcomed the news, as for a long period of time, the law appeared to unfairly impact people of colour.
Leading civil rights organisation, The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) president Derrick Johnson posted about the news on Twitter, commenting “We applaud President Biden”.
“Correcting unequal treatment – including marijuana reform – has been a priority issue for the NAACP for decades.”
While in its early stages, the Department of Justice aims to come up with a process in the form of a certificate of pardon, which individuals can show to potential employees and others when needed.
The Department of Justice confirmed this in a statement responding to Biden’s announcement.
“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 offence,” it stated.
“In coming days, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will begin implementing a process to provide impacted individuals with certificates of pardon.”
Biden calls on states to follow him
Biden’s pardon will help thousands of people convicted of the crime in the District of Columbia (DC), but he called on other states to follow suit.
He is calling on governors to issue similar pardons for those convicted of state marijuana offences, which make up the majority of marijuana possession cases.
Along with urging the states to issue pardons, Biden’s gesture inevitably puts pressure on state authorities to follow.
“I am urging all governors to do the same with regard to state offences. Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason either,” Biden said.
Rescheduling of drug on the cards
As the US continues in its attempts to decriminalize the drug, the pardon does not protect convictions for possession of other drugs, or for charges which relate to producing or possessing marijuana with an intent to distribute.
Also, Biden will not extend the pardoning to non-citizens who were in the nation at the time of their arrest.
The US President has called for the secretary of health and human services and the US attorney-general to assess how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.
Rescheduling it would mitigate or possibly remove criminal penalties for possession, as it is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and LSD, but ahead of fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Despite having eased marijuana laws, Biden has warned that limitations on trafficking, marketing and underage sales need to be maintained.