During the Democratic primary debate in November 2019, then-candidate Joe Biden said, “I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period. And I think “everyone [with a marijuana record] should be let out of jail — anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.” Unfortunately, there has been so little movement on these early campaign promises that three senators have petitioned the president to take action.
In a letter to the president, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren, Edward J. Markey, and Jeff Merkley urged Biden to use his executive authority to pardon all individuals convicted of federal non-violent cannabis offenses.
“After over a century of failed and racist cannabis policies, we write to urge a change of course: we request that you use your executive authority to pardon all individuals convicted of non-violent cannabis offenses, whether formerly or currently incarcerated…You have the power to act now: you can and should issue a blanket pardon for all non-violent federal cannabis offenses, fulfilling your promises to the American people and transforming the lives of tens of thousands of Americans,” the senators wrote.
Long out of step with current American views, cannabis laws in the U.S. have disproportionately punished Black and Brown communities. Such a move could be to the president’s advantage; a blanket pardon would have broad public support.
Approximately seventy percent of Americans are in favor of the federal government legalizing cannabis. In the past decade, eighteen states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use. Twenty-seven states plus Washington D.C. have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis. Thirty-six states, three territories, and Washington D.C. have allowed for the medical use of cannabis. Many tribal governments have legalized cannabis for various purposes, as well.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, and Sen. Cory Booker introduced a bill in the Senate in July to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Early last month, Senators Warren and Booker urged Attorney General Merrick Garland of the Department of Justice to decriminalize cannabis by removing the drug from the Federal controlled substances list.
Since the beginning of his presidency, Democrats and marijuana advocates have pushed Biden to reform cannabis laws, which disproportionately affect communities of color.
In their letter, the senators emphasize that a presidential blanket pardon could be an essential first step toward reversing decades of discriminatory drug policies. It would allow tens of thousands of Americans to return to society, find housing, find jobs, and rebuild their lives without the stigma of a criminal record.