The federal U.S. Sentencing Commission (USCC) has released a detailed analysis looking at the impact of President Joe Biden’s marijuana pardons, showing the geographic and demographic breakdown of those who are eligible for relief.
The president’s pardon proclamation covers people who’ve committed federal cannabis possession offenses, as well as people who’ve violated the law within Washington, D.C. While advocates have generally characterized the action as a symbolic first step, the analysis illustrates the real-life impact for thousands of Americans.
Consistent with the estimates highlighted by the White House last week, USSC found that 6,577 U.S. citizens have committed the covered offense. That’s based on a review of federal marijuana possession violations from 1992 to 2021.
The Commission has released additional analyses relating to President Biden's executive action on pardoning simple marijuana possession federal offenders: https://t.co/g9mOJjow7q
— SentencingCommission (@TheUSSCgov) October 13, 2022
The independent federal organization further identified 1,122 cases involving what it described as “resident/legal alien offenders.”
For both of those groups, USSC said that “no offenders remain in [Federal Bureau of Prisons] custody.”
The analysis also details where the cannabis offenses were concentrated regionally. Many took place along the Southern border, in states like Arizona and Texas. About 17 percent of the relevant offenses were committed in Arizona alone, it found.
A demographic breakdown further shows that, among those convicted of at least one marijuana offense under the relevant federal code, 41.3 percent are white, 31.8 percent are Hispanic and 23.6 percent are Black.
Non-citizens are excluded from Biden’s executive action—a point that advocates have been quick to criticize. The presidential pardon also doesn’t affect state-level convictions, though Biden has urged governors to follow the administration’s lead, with mixed responses.
For example, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said on Thursday that he’s “actively considering” possible marijuana clemency actions the state can take, and he’s encouraging people to apply for relief through the state’s existing pardon system in the interim.
It’s also unclear how many D.C.-specific offenses may qualify for pardons, though it’s expected to be in the thousands. U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said she appreciates the president’s action, but she’s urging him to expand on the reform by letting the District grant clemency on its own.
The USSC analysis also shows that there are 415 U.S. citizens whose offense “involved multiple controlled substances, at least one of which is marijuana.” Another 555 citizens had cases involving other non-simple possession counts but where “the only controlled substance involved in the offense was marijuana.”
Separate surveys released on Tuesday by USA Today/Ipsos and Politico/Morning Consult show majority support for Biden’s pardon action, as well as the president’s directive to conduct a review of the federal scheduling of cannabis. Most Americans also want to see their governors follow suit with clemency at the state level, as the president has encouraged.
For her part, Vice President Kamala Harris said on Monday 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.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), meanwhile, said that he appreciates the “significant” step that the president has taken, but there’s “more that we can do” to address the drug war and he’s “very hopeful” that additional reform can be enacted before the end of this Congress.
While the senator said that he does believe legalization could pass, the expectation is that Congress will work to advance a package of incremental marijuana reform proposals that includes banking and research legislation during the lame duck session.
Several Cabinet-level officials have celebrated Biden’s cannabis reform actions, including the heads of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and Department of Labor.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.