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Only federal marijuana charges are pardoned by Biden

WASHINGTON, DC—Questions abound on how President Biden’s recent marijuana possession pardons will impact Indian Country. Those who were convicted on federal charges, and did not have that conviction coupled with other drug or criminal convictions, are eligible for the pardon. Those who were convicted of state charges, regardless of their membership in a given tribe, are not eligible for a pardon.
Saying the current marijuana conviction system “makes no sense,” Biden pardoned thousands of individuals last Thursday. The pardon applies only to “simple marijuana possession,” meaning possessions that do not involve dealing, or harder drugs, or some related criminal activity.
“Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana,” Biden said, “No one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”
A White House official said that over 6,500 individuals were pardoned, and thousands more under DC law. However, pardons do not apply to those who were not U.S> citizens or who were in the country illegally.
Back in April, members of the DC Marijuana Justice community held a protest calling on the Administration to not only legalize simple marijuana possession, but pardon those convicted on thosem charges and expunge the record of that conviction.
Commercial interest benefited from the Biden action as Tilray Brands and Canopy Growth, two marijuana companies gained an average of 26 percent in subsequent trading. Profit taking must have occurred because by Thursday the spike had settled down to former levels.
Biden also called for his Administration, particularly Health and Human Services and the Attorney General’s Office, to scrutinize the current marijuana legal classification under federal drug laws.
In addition to the pardons, Biden announced that he has instructed Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to begin reviewing how marijuana is classified under federal drug laws. Reiterating his earlier “makes no sense remark,” Biden said that currently marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, “…the same as heroin and LSD — and more serious than fentanyl,” adding, “It makes no sense.”
The ball is now in the court of the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, and that agency will take the lead administering the pardons, according to an agency spokesman. Each pardoned individual will be provided with a certificate of pardon. All of their previous civil rights will be restored, save where those rights where suspended by a state or other criminal conviction.
Biden said: “There are thousands of people who were convicted for marijuana possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden on them.”
Two factors still loom large. One, a hugely disproportionate number of simple marijuana convictions involve people of color. And every single year, almost half of all drug arrests involve marijuana, and most of those arrests result in simple possession convictions.
According to the ACLU, in 2018 police arrested more people on marijuana charges “than for all violent crimes combined.”
Biden said. “It is time to right these wrongs. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.”
It remains to be seen what the long term political and economic impacts will be due to Biden’s marijuana pardoning or how it will impact Indian reservations. The impact might influence local, state and federal elections, at least, that is what the Democratic Party will be hoping for. The Biden Administration currently have a 53 percent disapproval rating.
(Contact James Giago Davies at

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