WASHINGTON – This Presidents Day, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), along with a coalition of business groups and criminal justice reform advocates, is calling upon President Joe Biden to follow through on his campaign commitment to expunge the criminal records of those with non-violent marijuana convictions.
“President Biden was crystal clear on the campaign trail that his administration would prioritize criminal justice reform, and he explicitly highlighted his desire to ‘zero out’ the records of those suffering from the stigma of a federal marijuana conviction,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “Following through on this campaign promise would be an important first step in remedying the past wrongs associated with nearly a century of marijuana prohibition and healing the wounds of the many Americans who have needlessly suffered under this failed public policy. In 2021, it is readily apparent that the criminalization of cannabis, and the lifelong lost opportunities that come with a criminal marijuana conviction, causes far greater harm than the responsible use of cannabis itself.”
You can read the full letter here.
Excerpts from the letter:
President Biden, 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 U.S. 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.
In November 2019, during a Democratic Primary Debate, you stated: “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period. And I think everyone – anyone who has a record – should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.” You now are in a position to do just that through a categorical pardon grant. Such grants are hardly unprecedented. Presidents from both political parties have taken such action when circumstances warranted it. In 1974, President Ford signed a proclamation granting conditional pardons to Selective Service Act violators who did not leave the United States. In 1977, President Carter issued categorical pardons to all Selective Service Act violators as a way to put the war and divisions it caused in the past.
When a large majority of Americans no longer believe cannabis should be illegal, aggressive enforcement tactics quickly lose support. A general pardon of all former and current federal non-violent cannabis offenders would be the kind of grand, ambitious, and impactful action that would effectively signal to marginalized communities that their suffering is seen and that the government seeks to remedy their harms.
U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) and Barbara Lee (CA-13), co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, also called on President Joe Biden to grant executive clemency to all non-violent federal cannabis offenders.
“Even before Congress sends President Biden a marijuana reform bill to sign, he has the unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans,” said Reps. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) and Barbara Lee (CA-13), Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs leading an effort on Capitol Hill to promote pardons to all non-violent federal cannabis offenders. “We urge President Biden to grant executive clemency for all non-violent cannabis offenders and look forward to working with him and the incoming Attorney General on quickly making this a reality.”
Blumenauer and Lee – who are continuing to build support on Capitol Hill for clemency for non-violent federal cannabis offenders – plan to send a formal letter to the Biden administration in the coming days.
NORML maintains that the establishment of a process to facilitate the review and expungement of past records is a necessary element of marijuana policy reform:
Millions of Americans, a disproportionate percentage of whom are young people and minorities, have been subject to a marijuana-related arrest and criminal conviction.
Branding these individuals, many of whom are at an age when they are just beginning their professional careers, as lifelong criminals result in a litany of lost opportunities including the potential loss of employment, housing, voting rights, professional licensing, and student aid and serves no legitimate societal purpose. The imposition of such lifelong penalties is even more punitive in instances where the criminal conviction is related to behavior or activities that have since been legalized and regulated.
There is legal and scholarly support for the Administration’s use of blanket pardon powers. Such actions were previously taken by Presidents Ford and Carter:
“One of the most common uses of systematic pardons in U.S. history has been to heal the wounds of war at home. For many years in the United States, we have been engaged in a war on drugs. Whatever the judgments of history about the virtue, the wisdom, or the success of this war, it has produced some laws and some sentences that are widely perceived to be unwise and unfair.” Pardon Us: Systematic Presidential Pardons, 2001 WL 1750548 (Vera Inst.Just.)