Nine congressional lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday, imploring him to extend his recent marijuana pardon action to include immigrants who have citizenship status issues. They are also urging him to go further with cannabis reform, saying he should “prioritize” decriminalization or descheduling.
The letter—led by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Chuy García (D-IL)—also calls on Biden to reopen immigration cases for the tens of thousands of people who’ve been deported over simple marijuana possession offenses.
The president’s clemency action “is an essential step for our country’s promise of justice for all,” the lawmakers wrote. “Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the Administration pardon all simple marijuana possession offenses—regardless of immigration status.”
Today we led a letter with @RepChuyGarcia asking the President to pardon all simple marijuana possession offenses, regardless of immigration status and reopen the immigration cases of those who were deported for marijuana-related offenses.
You can read the full letter here. pic.twitter.com/ZKPARuMGvp
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) November 15, 2022
“Using the power of the pardon is a constitutional imperative and a critical tool in rectifying the compounding racial injustices of draconian drug policies,” they said. “However, continuing to deport immigrants for simple marijuana possession will only exacerbate racial disparities, traumatize families and communities vital to this country’s fabric, and create ineffective legal regimes at taxpayers’ expense.”
Ocasio-Cortez previously urged an expansion of Biden’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.
According to a U.S. Sentencing Commission (USCC) report from 2016, 92 percent of federal marijuana possession cases in Fiscal Yer 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.
“After decades of the failed war on drugs and the countless lives and families it ruined, our country must begin repairing those harms,” the lawmakers’ new letter says. “Granting pardons to all simple marijuana possession offenses—regardless of immigration status—demonstrates genuine compassion while ensuring that our country continues to mitigate the inhumane and ineffective drudge policies that have ravaged communities of color for so long.”
“However, for immigrants whose lives have been upended for simple marijuana possession, a pardon is only the first step in allowing them to rebuild their lives. That is why we also urge you to prioritize decriminalizing and descheduling marijuana and reopening the immigration cases of those who were deported for marijuana-related offenses. These actions would restore the lives and dignity of thousands of migrants who were deported for conduct that is now legal in varying capacities across 41 states. Additionally, following these actions would allow those same people to return to their families and lives in the United States.”
Biden campaigned on decriminalizing cannabis possession, but he remains opposed to federal legalization, which is effectively what descheduling would accomplish. However, along with the pardons, he did direct an administrative review of marijuana scheduling last month that could theoretically return a descheduling recommendation.
“We applaud the work that your administration has done in centering marginalized communities and their needs as you consider executive actions and the power of the pardon,” the letter to the president concludes. “We urge you to extend these efforts to include immigrants so that they might have the same opportunities that you have extended to others.”
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’s mass pardon impacted about 6,500 people who’ve committed marijuana possession offenses at the federal level, plus those who’ve violated the law in Washington, D.C., but activists have argued that the relief should also extend to people like immigrants and those with sales convictions.
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.
While Biden has repeatedly touted his cannabis clemency action, saying at one point that he’s “changed the lives of thousands of people,” he’s strongly indicated that he’s unwilling to provide further relief for those with sales convictions.
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.