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Biden Should Release People In Prison For Marijuana, Criminal Defense Lawyers Group Tells White House



The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) is calling on the Biden administration to decriminalize marijuana and commute the sentences of people still incarcerated over federal cannabis offenses.

In a recent letter sent to White House officials, the association said it is advocating for the “immediate commutation of sentences, compassionate release and second chances for persons convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses.”

The letter was sent last week, on the same day that it was revealed that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has agreed to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

“The continued prosecution of marijuana crimes continues to cause irreparable harm on real people and their families,” it says. “Men and women languish in federal prisons across this country for conduct today that has been legalized in many states and under statues that have been rewritten to reflect the evolving landscape in the field of marijuana.”

NACDL then summarized the cases of four clients, “out of many, that deserve the President’s serious consideration in receiving presidential clemency, and what he has extolled as what every American deserves, and that is, a second chance.”

The individuals are all serving decades-long sentences for non-violent cannabis convictions.

“We hope that you will consider these clients, and the 26 other of our clients who are incarcerated for marijuana offenses and whose clemency petitions are pending before President Biden, in granting them clemency, and a second chance,” the letter concludes.

In a press release last week, NACDL President Michael Heiskell also weighed in on the administration’s move to reschedule marijuana, calling it a “positive step” but one that should be followed up with congressional action to legalize cannabis, enact regulations and “provide retroactive sentencing relief for individuals incarcerated for federal marijuana offenses.”

While President Joe Biden has granted mass pardons for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses, he’s drawn a distinction with cases involving the cultivation and distribution of cannabis.

Late last month, the president did issue another round of clemency to more than a dozen people with non-violent federal drug convictions, though none of them involved marijuana.

Vice President Kamala Harris promoted the administration’s pardons at a White House event last month, reiterating that she doesn’t believe “people should have to go to jail for smoking weed.”

She previously hosted cannabis pardon recipients at an earlier event where she called for marijuana legalization behind closed doors.

Advocates are encouraged to see the administration continue to grant and promote clemency for people criminalized over drugs, but this latest round served as a reminder that thousands of people remain incarcerated over federal marijuana offenses.

Last month, 36 members of Congress implored Biden to grant clemency to all Americans currently in federal prison over non-violent cannabis convictions by commuting their sentences, pointing out that the pardons he’s issued to date for simple possession cases did not release a single person from incarceration.

But as the election approaches, it’s clear that the administration recognizes the popularity of cannabis policy reform. Both Biden and Harris touted their reform actions at exactly 4:20pm ET on the cannabis holiday 420 last month, for example.

The president also discussed the marijuana actions in a historic context in March, during his State of the Union address.

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