More than 130 immigrations and civil rights organizations sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Friday, imploring him to extend his marijuana possession pardon proclamation to anyone regardless of immigration status.
As the president continues to promote the cannabis clemency action ahead of the election, while emphasizing the limitations of the relief, the groups are urging him to do more for people who are not citizens or lawful permanent residents, who were specifically excluded from the pardon.
The National Immigration Project (NIPNLG) and National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) led the letter, which says that the organizations “welcome” Biden’s action as a “much-needed first step toward mitigating the harm” of the drug war, particularly for Black and Brown Americans.
“However, as organizations working on racial justice, human rights, and immigrant rights issues, we are grimly disappointed at the explicit exclusion of many immigrants and at the absence of affirmative measures to ensure that all immigrants get meaningful relief from the immigration consequences that can follow marijuana convictions,” the groups wrote.
More than 130 immigration, criminal justice, and civil rights organizations released a letter today urging the Biden administration to include immigrants in the pardon process for marijuana convictions. Read the letter ➡️ https://t.co/dZR67s7Ecj
— National Immigrant Justice Center (@NIJC) November 4, 2022
“Cutting people out of criminal policy reforms simply because of their place of birth casts a shadow over the White House’s efforts to address the over-policing and mass incarceration of Black and Brown communities,” they said. “Moving forward, we urge you to ensure that every step taken to remedy racial injustice includes relief to impacted immigrant communities.”
In the meantime, they’re asking that Biden “extend protection to all immigrants, regardless of immigration status, and to take necessary steps to ensure that immigrants do not suffer negative immigration consequences from marijuana convictions.”
Other signatories on the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Immigration Law Center, NORML, Parabola Center for Law and Policy, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Vera Institute of Justice, Veterans Cannabis Coalition and more.
While Biden described several of the collateral consequences of having a marijuana conviction on a person’s record when announcing his pardon proclamation, such as challenges obtaining housing or federal student aid, the groups pointed out that “immigration detention and deportation are also consequences that flow from marijuana-related convictions, consequences left unaddressed by your proclamation.”
Following President Biden's recent marijuana convictions pardon announcement, more than 130 organizations are calling on the President to ensure the pardon process includes meaningful relief for immigrants.
— NIPNLG (@NIPNLG) November 4, 2022
“The proclamation leaves immigrants behind in two primary ways. First, it applies only to people who are currently citizens or lawful permanent residents, casting aside undocumented immigrants and other lawfully present immigrants such as refugees and asylees,” the letter says. “Second although full and unconditional pardons by the President should have the legal effect of removing the immigration consequences of marijuana possession convictions, immigration prosecutors and judges will likely ignore the pardon’s effect in deportation proceeding.”
“These omissions mean that non-citizens will either be entirely ineligible for a pardon or may receive a pardon, but still face deportation as a consequence of the pardoned offense. The President should extend the pardon to all immigrants, and the administration should issue agency guidance that ensures immigrants previously deported or facing deportation because of a pardoned conviction receive appropriate relief. When pardons, clemencies, or sentence reduction measures do not address immigration consequences the ensuing harms are grievous.”
“As you stated on October 6th, no one should be in jail for marijuana possession,” it concludes. “No one should be denied access to higher education or precluded from pursuing the career of their dreams because of marijuana possession. Surely no one should be deported and permanently exiled from their loved ones and community because of marijuana related convictions.”
Late last month, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) similarly said that the president’s marijuana pardon proclamation should be “applauded,” but the action is nonetheless critically limited because it exempts non-citizens who constitute the vast majority of federal possession cases.
According to a U.S. Sentencing Commission (USCC) report from 2016, 92 percent of federal marijuana possession cases in Fiscal Year 2013 occurred at the U.S. Southern border, and 94 percent of those people were not U.S. citizens. Those statistics have shifted year-to-year, but it nonetheless speaks to a broader trend in federal enforcement.
Biden hasn’t directly weighed in on the omission of immigrants as part of his mass marijuana pardon, which affects U.S. citizens and “resident/legal alien offenders,” but he has indicated on several occasions that he’s not willing to extend the relief to people with federal cannabis sales convictions.
“I’m keeping my promise that no one should be in jail merely for possessing marijuana by the way—just for possession,” he said on Thursday, for example. “Nobody should be in jail. Those records should be expunged.”
Activists with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and DCMJ staged protests outside of the White House last month to call attention to that issue, demanding that Biden release the estimated 2,800 people currently in federal prison for marijuana convictions that aren’t limited to simple possession.
Meanwhile, the White House drug czar recently cheered Biden’s “historic” move to issue a mass marijuana pardon and direct an administrative review of the drug’s scheduling status. And he is again highlighting that there are “clearly” medical benefits of cannabis—which he says shouldn’t be ignored because of separate concerns about youth use.
The Justice Department and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have committed to quickly carrying out the separate scheduling review the president directed, which could result in a recommendation to place cannabis in a lower schedule or remove it altogether, effectively legalizing the plant under federal law.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has said officials will “work as quickly as we can” to complete the analysis of cannabis scheduling per the president’s directive.
The Department of Justice, for its part, “will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted of that offense,” a department spokesperson said.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said that officials will be working diligently to ensure that people who received a pardon for federal marijuana offenses under the presidential proclamation are not impeded from future job opportunities.
Vice President Kamala Harris said last month that voters should elect lawmakers who support marijuana reform so that Congress can enact a “uniform approach” to the issue in light of the president’s cannabis pardons.
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.
Read the letter to Biden from immigration and civil rights groups on marijuana pardons below: