Business groups, marijuana advocates and at least two federal lawmakers are calling on President Joe Biden to make haste in expunging the records of federal prisoners with non-violent marijuana convictions, just as he promised during his presidential campaign.
It’s not a novel notion. Rather, it’s something Biden — and his surrogates — have been talking about for some time. But it hasn’t come up once since the election, according to advocates.
“We’re about a month into the new administration and hearings are coming up for the attorney general position, and cannabis hasn’t been discussed yet,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told The News Station. “We want to make sure it’s on the radar for the administration as the attorney general is being considered and more broadly as policy.”
NORML signed the letter to Biden, which isn’t the last this new administration will hear on the issue.
Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus are solidly behind the effort and are promising to send their own letter soon asking for the same urgency.
Blumenauer and Lee have already been trying to drum up support on Capitol Hill for offering pardons to all non-violent federal cannabis offenders.
“We urge you to clearly demonstrate your commitment to criminal justice reform by immediately issuing a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders in the US,” the NORML letter to Biden continues. “In addition, all those who are federally incarcerated on non-violent, cannabis-only offenses for activity now legal under state laws should be pardoned and their related sentences commuted.”
Trying to live life with a cannabis possession conviction can be tricky. Doing something that is now legal in many US states remains illegal on a federal level and can affect your life in many ways, especially if you’re young or a person of color and trying to find work, a place to live or to get back in school.
Convictions, even for simple possession, tend to follow you around, often for many years.
“Long after a person has gone through the legal system, the baggage of the war on marijuana continues to undermine that person’s life and diminish their prospects,” the letter to Biden states. “It is past time for the harm to stop.”
In a statement, Blumenauer and Lee urge President Biden to quickly grant executive clemency for all non-violent cannabis offenders, and say that they look forward to working with him and the new attorney general to make this happen.
“Even before Congress sends President Biden a marijuana reform bill to sign,” they write, “he has the unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans.”
Prison facilities, not surprisingly, have become coronavirus hotbeds, with the virus spreading in places where there is nowhere to hide. A bipartisan group of US senators is trying to obtain early, compassionate release for elderly federal prisoners after more than 200 inmates with pre-existing medical conditions, more than half of whom were over 60 years old, have now died as a result of coronavirus. The president’s pen could go a long way towards helping solve the crisis.
The NORML letter pointedly reminds Biden of his own words while campaigning in Nov. 2019, when he stated flatly that marijuana should be decriminalized.
“I think everyone – anyone who has a record – should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out,” Biden said two years ago.
The letter also reminds him that a majority of Americans are behind this and that the president is now in a position to finally end this sad legacy of the war on ‘drugs.’ In doing so, it will also proclaim that criminal justice policy will change under the new administration.
NORML’s Strekal said almost 97% of marijuana charges are at a local level and that doing this would affect an average of perhaps 3,000-5,000 imprisoned per year in federal facilities.
“But look at the precedent that would set for local officials,” Strekal added. “‘Look at what the president did.’ It’s leading by example. And it’s something we don’t have to wait for Congress to act upon. This is something that Biden articulated a desire for, and he can do so now.”
The letter to Biden was also signed by Project Mission Green/The Weldon Project, REFORM Alliance, Council on Criminal Justice, Taking Action for Good, The Last Mile, CAN-DO Foundation, Libertas Institute, Buried Alive Project, Minority Cannabis Business Association, United States Cannabis Coalition, and the National Cannabis Industry Association.