President Joe Biden is again inflating the impact of his pardons for marijuana offenses, falsely suggesting that his act of clemency “expunged” records and that people were released from prison.
“A promise made and a promise kept,” he said during a campaign speech in South Carolina on Saturday.
“I keep my promises when I said no one—no one—should be in prison for merely possessing marijuana or using it, and their records should be expunged,” Biden said.
The president has routinely framed the mass cannabis pardon as an example of him fulfilling campaign pledges, but he’s also frequently misstated the practical effects of the action. A presidential pardon represents formal forgiveness from the government, but it does not expunge the record.
Several thousands of people have received the pardon for federal marijuana possession offenses under a pair of proclamations issued in 2022 and last month. The Justice Department has been distributing certificates to eligible people who apply for the largely symbolic document.
“The pardon means that you’re forgiven, but you still have a criminal record,” the certificate says.
Also, of those thousands who earned the clemency, no one was released from prison as a result, despite Biden insinuating as much. Federal prosecutions for possession alone are very rare.
Advocates have pointed out, however, that there are still people in federal prison over other non-violent marijuana offenses. They’ve pushed the Biden administration to do more, including keeping his key cannabis campaign pledge to decriminalize marijuana.
The president hasn’t indicated a willingness to promote decriminalization over his first three years in office, though he did direct an administrative review into cannabis scheduling that’s ongoing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and now it’s up to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to make the final call.
But by repeatedly touting his mass cannabis pardon, it seems Biden is aware of the political popularity of marijuana reform. And a recent poll suggests he stands to gain significantly in terms of favorability if his scheduling directive results in a reclassification under federal law.
It found that voters’ impression of the president jumped a net 11 points after hearing about the possible implications of the rescheduling review—and that includes an 11-point favorability swing among young voters 18-25 who will be critical to his reelection bid.