KANSAS CITY, Mo. — President Biden will pardon everyone who has been convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law, the White House announced Thursday.
Now he’s calling on all governors to do the same at the state level.
“There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions,” Biden said in a statement.
The announcement represents the most significant action on marijuana the Biden administration has taken to date — and a major step toward decriminalization.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” Biden said in a video.
Marijuana is illegal under federal law, even as states have moved toward legal use for recreational and medical purposes.
The White House is urging governors to take similar action. Officials noted there are far more people who have been convicted under state law.
Missourians voted to allow medical marijuana, and this November, voters will decide if recreational marijuana should be legalized as well. The ballot issue also asks if previous non-violent marijuana offenses should be erased.
But Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has been critical of the constitutional amendment, calling it “a disaster” during an August trip to Kansas City.
After news of Biden’s move, a spokesperson for Parson’s office released the following statement, seeming to indicate the Missouri governor has no plans to follow the President.
“President Biden’s action is limited to individuals who violated federal law and does not implicate state law in any way. In Missouri, those with criminal records can apply for expungement under state law.
“Governor Parson has used his state constitutional authority to grant pardons to individuals who demonstrate a changed life-style, commitment to rehabilitation, contrition, and contribution to their communities – rather than as a blanket approach to undermine existing law.”
John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri 22, the group that spearheaded putting marijuana legalization on the ballot, noted Biden’s pardon is limited.
“We applaud the expungement announcement, but it will only pertain to federal cases, whereas Amendment 3 will apply to state court records.
“Much like everything with the federal government, the announcement on possible future rescheduling is frankly too little, too late and won’t change state marijuana prohibitions. Only by passing Amendment 3 will we be able to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana in Missouri.”
Biden is also asking the secretary of Health and Human Services and the attorney general to “expeditiously” review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.
Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, meaning it is in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD. According to the federal government, it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value.
Meanwhile in Kansas, marijuana is still illegal for both medical and recreational use. But many state lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation for medical marijuana.
A spokesperson for Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s office said that will be her focus, again not giving any indication that the Democratic governor will follow Biden’s lead.
“Gov. Kelly is focused on legalizing medical marijuana so that Kansans with severe illnesses no longer have to suffer. She will continue to consider all clemency and pardon requests based on a complete and thorough review of the individual cases.”
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