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US President Joe Biden is set to pardon thousands of Americans found guilty of simple cannabis possession, taking executive action to reverse federal convictions while urging state governments to follow suit.
The White House announced the move on Thursday, with Biden vowing to help “right [the] wrongs” of past drug policy on both the federal and state level – a promise he repeatedly made as a candidate on the campaign trail before the 2020 election.
“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” he said. “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.”
Officials could not provide a hard number for how many Americans are currently behind bars for cannabis possession, but noted that around 6,500 people have been convicted on federal charges between 1992 and 2021 in US states and thousands more in the District of Columbia.
In addition to the pardons, which will come after a review process overseen by Attorney General Merrick Garland, Biden called on governors to issue their own clemency for marijuana possession on the state level, and said he would tap officials to begin reconsidering how cannabis is treated under federal law. It is currently a Schedule 1 substance, the highest classification reserved for the most dangerous drugs with no accepted medicinal use.
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