In “Biden pardons all federal offenses of simple marijuana possession in first major steps toward decriminalization,” Kevin Lipton writes at CNN Politics:
President Joe Biden is taking his first major steps toward decriminalizing marijuana, fulfilling a campaign pledge to erase prior federal possession convictions and beginning the process of potentially loosening federal classification of the drug.
Biden on Thursday pardoned all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession, a move that senior administration officials said would affect thousands of Americans charged with that crime.
The announcement comes a month ahead of critical November elections that will determine control of Congress. Some candidates – in particular Pennsylvania Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running for his state’s US Senate seat – have made the issue of marijuana legalization central to their campaigns. When Fetterman and Biden met last month, the candidate said he would raise the issue with the President. At the same time, Democrats have sought to rebuff allegations they are soft on crime, an issue that has risen to the top of some voters’ agendas in certain swing districts.
As part of the announcement, Biden also encouraged governors to take similar steps to pardon state simple marijuana possession charges, a move that would potentially affect many thousands more Americans.
Biden’s statement accompanying the pardon should get some attention:
“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a video announcing his executive actions. “It’s legal in many states, and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences. While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”….“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” the President said.
The raw number of those immediately affected is not large. As Lipton reports, “Officials said there are currently no Americans serving prison time solely on federal simple marijuana possession charges. But they said the number who had been charged with that crime was north of 6,500.” But Biden’s decision will help alleviate worries of millions of marijuana users in jurisdictions that still punish them, as fair minded judges and other local officials realize that it is politically unprofitable to impose draconian punishment on voters who would face no such threats in many other places across the nation.
The President is on very solid political ground. Asked, “Do you think the use of marijuana should be legal, or not?,” 68 percent of Gallup poll respondents said they “think it should be” a year ago, with 32 percent saying it should not. Even 62 percent of Republicans favored legalization of weed. Polls by Quinnipiac and CBS news found very similar results. “Keeping in mind that all of your answers in this survey are confidential, have you, yourself, ever happened to try marijuana?, 49 percent of Gallup respondents admitted they did in July of last year.
No doubt, most younger voters will like Biden’s move, which is likely a major reason behind it. Rolling Stone magazine is already having lots of fun with the “Dank Brandon” meme. Biden’s move may or may not give him a small bump in his approval ratings. But it certainly won’t hurt younger voter turnout
Biden’s ‘October surprise’ will likely be met with some grudging denunciations from Republican politicians who are not up for re-election in the midterms. Smarter Republicans probably won’t have much to say about it and will grumble in private, knowing that their criticism will only add to Biden’s favorable buzz.
For some interesting data, maps and charts re pot legalization world-wide, check out this wikipedia entry.