President Joe Biden is cheering the Oregon governor’s move to grant tens of thousands of marijuana pardons this week, which followed his own federal clemency action last month. And he says other states should “follow Oregon’s example.”
Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced on Monday that she was issuing pardons for more than 47,000 cannabis possession convictions at the state-level—an action that comes about a month after Biden pardoned several thousand people who’ve committed federal possession offenses and urged governors to follow suit.
Oregon is the latest state to pardon all prior offenses of simple marijuana possession, following my pardon of federal offenses and call to Governors to do the same in their states.
It's time to right our failed approach to marijuana. I urge states to follow Oregon's example. https://t.co/5m5aeaDStO
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 22, 2022
“Oregon is the latest state to pardon all prior offenses of simple marijuana possession, following my pardon of federal offenses and call to Governors to do the same in their states,” the president said on Tuesday. “It’s time to right our failed approach to marijuana. I urge states to follow Oregon’s example.”
White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice similarly touted the state reform move on Tuesday, calling it “tremendous news.”
.@POTUS called for states to follow his lead in pardoning those convicted of simple marijuana offenses. Now, nearly 45,000 Oregonians will have a second chance to build a life. Tremendous news. https://t.co/DUpW3uaUPc
— Susan Rice (@AmbRice46) November 21, 2022
Kevin Munoz, a White House assistant press secretary, also applauded Oregon for the cannabis pardons.
— Kevin Munoz (@KMunoz46) November 21, 2022
Governors from states across the U.S. have given mixed responses about their plans for marijuana clemency in light of the president’s call to acrion, with some pledging to analyze their options and others noting that their authority is limited.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) came out in support of marijuana decriminalization last month, saying it’s time to “end the stigma” and announcing steps he’s taken to explore his options for independently granting relief to people with existing convictions.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D), meanwhile, signed two marijuana-related executive orders last week: one to protect patients who meet certain criteria and possess medical cannabis legally obtained from dispensaries in other states, and another to regulate the sale of delta-8 THC products. The medical cannabis move is based on the governor’s clemency powers.
With respect to the federal cannabis relief from the Biden administration, congressional researchers released a report last week that provides a point-by-point overview of the limitations of the president’s action, including the fact that he can’t force states to grant clemency.
Following Biden’s pardon proclamation, the federal U.S. Sentencing Commission (USCC) released a detailed analysis showing the geographic and demographic breakdown of those who are eligible for relief.
Consistent with the estimates highlighted by the White House last month, USSC found that 6,577 U.S. citizens have committed the covered offense. The independent federal organization further identified 1,122 cases involving what it described as “resident/legal alien offenders.”
Activists with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and DCMJ staged protests outside of the White House last month to demand that Biden also release the estimated 2,800 people currently in federal prison for marijuana convictions that aren’t limited to simple possession.
The presidential clemency is also limited by the fact that non-citizens with cannabis possession records were specifically excluded from pardons—an issue that’s been identified by numerous advocacy groups and lawmakers.
For example, nine congressional lawmakers sent a letter to Biden last week, imploring him to extend his pardons include immigrants who have citizenship status issues. They are also urged him to “prioritize” decriminalization or descheduling.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) previously called for an expansion of the president’s pardons, stressing the importance of having a Democratic Party that proactively stands up for Latino communities, including the immigrant population. Part of that means enacting inclusive policies, she said, which was a missing element of the president’s mass cannabis pardon.
Earlier this month, more than 130 immigrations and civil rights organizations sent a letter to Biden, similarly imploring him to extend his marijuana possession pardon proclamation to anyone regardless of immigration status.
Biden has been routinely touting the pardon action, and at one point he erroneously suggested that he did facilitate expungements to seal a person’s record altogether, rather than simply pardoning them and providing formal forgiveness with fewer practical implications.
A series of polls have shown that Americans strongly support the president’s pardon action, and they also don’t think that marijuana should be federally classified as a Schedule I drug.
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