People with certain non-violent drug convictions could soon be granted presidential clemency. President Biden could use clemency to pardon people whose records impede their abilities to get jobs, vote, or otherwise participate in society. It could also include commuting the sentences of people who are currently incarcerated.
“The president is deeply committed to reducing incarceration, helping people successfully reenter society. And he has said too many people are incarcerated — too many are black and brown,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “And he is therefore exploring multiple avenues to provide relief to certain nonviolent drug offenders, including through the use of his clemency power.”
The Biden administration has previously discussed rescheduling cannabis. Moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act wouldn’t facilitate mass clemency given that being convicted for crimes related to drugs in that slightly lower category also carries significant penalties.
Many advocates believe that Biden should use executive authority to end federal marijuana prohibition on his own. There are, however, legal questions about whether a president could actually legalize cannabis unilaterally given existing statutes.
Since taking office Biden’s administration has fired its own White House staffers over marijuana and sought to extend a budget provision that has blocked Washington, D.C. from legalizing cannabis sales. As a senator, Biden played a key role in enacting punitive drug laws that contributed to the mass incarceration he’s now considering steps to resolve.