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Biden Finally Acknowledges His Marijuana Pardons Did Not Expunge Records After Repeatedly Claiming They Did



President Joe Biden, who has previously falsely stated on several occasions that his marijuana pardons also expunged people’s records, has now acknowledged the limitations of his action—stating that for clemency recipients, “their records should be expunged as well, I might add.”

At a campaign event in Philadelphia on Wednesday, where Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made their pitch to Black voters ahead of the November election, the president said, “I’m keeping my promises that no one should be in jail merely for using or possessing marijuana.”

“I pardoned thousands of people incarcerated for the mere possession of marijuana—thousands. A promise made and a promise kept,” he said. “And their records should be expunged as well, I might add.”

Biden has repeatedly touted the mass cannabis pardons he granted, signaling the campaign’s understanding of the popularity of marijuana reform. But in the past, he’s falsely suggested that the pardons did expunge recordsmaking the claim during his State of the Union address this year, for example—when that’s not the case.

As the Office of the Pardon Attorney explained, an expungement is a “judicial remedy that is rarely granted by the court and cannot be granted within the Department of Justice or by the President.”

And as the Congressional Research Service (CRS) explained in a November 2022 report, “the pardon may not remove all legal consequences of marijuana possession, because it does not expunge convictions.”

“Moreover, some collateral consequences of marijuana-related activities do not depend on a person being charged with or convicted of a [Controlled Substances Act] violation,” it said.

A pardon, meanwhile, simply represents formal forgiveness. While it doesn’t seal records, the Justice Department has been distributing certificates to eligible people who apply for the largely symbolic document.

Biden might have adjusted his rhetoric to reflect the realities of the clemency action, but he hasn’t indicated that he’s willing to offer relief for offenses beyond simple possession. In fact, he’s specifically said that growing or distributing cannabis is “a different deal.”

To that end, there are still people in federal prison over non-violent marijuana offenses. And advocates have pushed the Biden administration to do more, including keeping his key cannabis campaign pledge to decriminalize marijuana.

While he didn’t mention it in his speech on Wednesday, Biden has also taken credit for directing an administrative review into marijuana scheduling that recently resulted in DOJ formally proposing to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

That wouldn’t decriminalize or legalize marijuana, but it would recognize the plant’s medical utility and relatively low abuse potential for the first time in over 50 years. It would also let state-licensed marijuana businesses take federal tax deductions and remove certain research barriers.

The proposed rule to federally reschedule marijuana was officially posted last week, kicking off a public comment period that’s expected to elicit a major response from supporters and opponents of cannabis reform.

While DOJ will take all public comments submitted by July 22 into consideration as it weighs the reform, it said in the notice that one of the topics its especially interested in hearing about is the “unique economic impacts” of the rescheduling proposal given that state-level legalization has created a “multibillion dollar industry” that stands to benefit from possible federal tax relief under the reform.

The White House drug czar, Rahul Gupta, has also discussed the rescheduling move multiple times in the past couple weeks, framing it as a “historic” reform that could open the door to cannabis-based drug development. However, he’s also inflated the impact of a Schedule III reclassification, at one point suggesting it would address racial disparities in marijuana enforcement.

The Biden-Harris campaign has also drawn a contrast between the marijuana policy actions of their administration and that of former President Donald Trump, pointing out that DOJ under his administration rescinded federal cannabis enforcement guidance that generally laid out a policy of non-interference with legal marijuana states.

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