Everyone With A (Federal) Pot Conviction Is Getting A Pardon!
In what is being seen as a major move towards federal decriminalization, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that he is issuing pardons for anyone with a federal conviction for smoking or possessing marijuana.
It's a pretty big deal and something that will impact 6,500 people across the country and thousands more in DC.
"Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit," the president said in a statement. "Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates."
This is all true, and while 37 states and many individual cities have passed some form of Ban The Box laws that prohibit employers from asking prospective employees if they have a criminal history or conducting a criminal background check, they're not all comprehensive (some apply to state contractors only, or private employers with a certain amount of employees) and there are still states where this is allowed, making it difficult for those with prior convictions to become gainfully employed. In addition to just being fair to those who have already served their time, this obviously also greatly reduces recidivism.
Sure, it sounds crazy, and it sure isn't very American, but it actually does turn out that making it easier for people with criminal histories to get jobs actually reduces crime. It's almost as if, if people can't make money a legal way, they will find a way to do it illegally rather than just starve to death.
The president is also asking state governors to follow his lead and issue pardons for those convicted of minor marijuana crimes at the state level — which he can't pardon because "state crime."
"Just as no one should be in a Federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either," he said.
In addition to this, President Biden is also asking Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to review how marijuana is scheduled.
"Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances," he said, adding "This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic."
To be fair, people at one point were very concerned that smoking pot could lead to reefer madness.
Reefer Madness Smoke GIF by Hash MuseumGiphy
Sixty-eight percent of Americans now believe that marijuana should be legalized — including 50 percent of Republicans. Pot is legal in 19 states and 83 percent of us agree that the War on Drugs was an incredible failure. It's probably one of the few things in the world most of us can agree on these days. There is no reason people should continue to suffer just because those who made the laws in the past were wrong.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse