Late December 2023 saw another step in pardons for certain cannabis convictions.
On December 22nd, 2023, in an effort to correct social and racial injustices, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation grating pardons to thousands of individuals convicted of cannabis use, simple possession, or attempted simple possession on federal lands and in the District of Columbia (1). Previously, in 2022 he issued similar pardons, and this latest round adds more criminal offenses that can be pardoned (1). Additionally, 11 individuals serving excessively long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses were also granted clemency (1).
The pardons do not apply to those unlawfully in the United States, and though neither of the pardons released anyone from federal prison, they will open up more opportunities to secure housing and employment (1).
“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” Biden said in a statement (1). “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
Biden encouraged other leaders to act similarly when approaching cannabis convictions (1). “Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” Biden stated (1).
Some argue that the pardons do not go far enough. Representatives from the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), a nonprofit advocating for cannabis policy changes, noted that the pardons did not incorporate all cannabis related convictions and that state-level cannabis convictions are far more prevalent (3). “The number of people who have federal offences are very low, a pardon at the federal level doesn't effectuate the kind of record clearance we want to see,” Sarah Gersten, executive director of the LPP explained (3).
People who are eligible can complete an application from the Department of Justice and receive proof of their pardon (1).
Read our prior coverage of the federal pardon process here.