Two lawmakers and a coalition of marijuana advocates on Monday called on President Joe Biden to grant mass clemency to people with federal cannabis convictions.
It’s an ask inspired by actions taken by Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in the 1970s to categorically forgive Americans who avoided the draft for the Vietnam War.
Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) announced that they will be sending a formal letter to the Biden administration with their request soon.
“At the end of last year, the House of Representatives passed legislation, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act, to ensure that these programs work as intended and that the revenue generated can be reinvested into the communities most harmed under criminalization,” the lawmakers said in a press release. “Until the day that Congress sends President Biden a marijuana reform bill to sign, he has the unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans.”
At the same time, reform advocates from multiple organizations sent Biden a letter with a similar intent, using Presidents Day to call for mass marijuana pardons.
The advocacy letter from pro-legalization groups and industry associations urges Biden “to clearly demonstrate your commitment to criminal justice reform by immediately issuing a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders.”
“In addition, all those who are federally incarcerated on non-violent, cannabis-only offenses for activity now legal under state laws should be pardoned and their related sentences commuted,” it says. “Cannabis prohibition ruins lives, wastes resources, and is opposed by a large majority of Americans.”
The advocates stressed that a marijuana conviction can hamper the ability of people to obtain housing, jobs and educational opportunities. They also cited comments Biden made during the Democratic primary in 2019, when he said that records for cannabis-related offenses should be “completely zeroed out.”
“You now are in a position to do just that through a categorical pardon grant,” the letter says. “We appreciate that the Biden-Sanders Task Force recommendations speak to these issues, and we recognize that expungement is an important part of the healing process. We ask you to clearly send—through a general clemency—a powerful message that our country is truly taking a new course on criminal justice policy and practice.”
A general pardon, as the groups are calling for, is distinct from the individual acts of clemency that have been done by the past few presidents. What Carter did in 1977 was issue a proclamation laying out criteria for who would be eligible for relief. Those who violated the Military Selective Service Act by avoiding the draft in a certain timeframe were able, under his action, to submit documentation to show that they qualify and would then be systematically pardoned.
“By following the example of President Carter, who issued a blanket pardon for those who were convicted of violating the Military Selective Service Act by draft-evasion acts or omissions committed between August 4, 1964 and March 28, 1973, President Biden could begin the process of ‘winning the peace’ in the War on Drugs by ending it and working to make whole those who have been harmed,” Blumenauer and Lee said in a joint statement.
“During President Biden’s campaign, he committed that he would ’automatically expunge all past marijuana convictions for use and possession,” they said. ”Therefore, we urge him to grant executive clemency for all non-violent cannabis offenders. As Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs, we look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration and the incoming Attorney General on quickly making this a reality.”
The new advocacy marijuana letter was signed by representatives of NORML, the newly established U.S. Cannabis Coalition, Minority Cannabis Business Association, National Cannabis Industry Association, advocate and recent recipient of a presidential pardon Weldon Angelos and others.
While Angelos and several other non-violent drug offenders received clemency under President Donald Trump, the letter points out that other deserving people have been left behind, including Luke Scarmazzo, who is serving a federal sentence over operating a California medical cannabis dispensary in compliance with state law.
“President Biden was crystal clear on the campaign trail that his administration would prioritize criminal justice reform, and he explicitly highlighted his desire to expunge the records of those suffering from the stigma of a federal marijuana conviction,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a press release.
Beyond expungements, Biden has also voiced support for medical cannabis legalization, modestly rescheduling marijuana and letting states set their own cannabis policies. However, he’s declined to back adult-use legalization, despite supermajority support within his party.
“Following through on this campaign promise would be an important first step in remedying the past wrongs associated with nearly a century of marijuana prohibition and healing the wounds of the many Americans who have needlessly suffered under this failed public policy,” Altieri said. ” In 2021, it is readily apparent that the criminalization of cannabis, and the lifelong lost opportunities that come with a criminal marijuana conviction, causes far greater harm than the responsible use of cannabis itself.”
Read the advocacy letter to Biden on marijuana clemency below:
Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.
The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.
Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.
The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.
The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.
“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.
The Virginia Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight is meeting now. You can find the agenda and links to livestream and to provide public comment at https://t.co/f1wsPn7SV7
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) October 14, 2021
Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.
They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.
DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.
In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.
DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.
It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.
LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.
Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.
Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:
For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:
And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:
DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.
“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.
“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”
Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:
|All other tetrahydrocannabinol||1,000||2,000|
A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.
It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.
Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.
Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.
Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.
But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.
Disappointed but not surprised U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear our case. We’re pursuing our claims in federal court. As that litigation proceeds, Biden administration will have to take a position, which it avoided by waiving its right to respond to our Supreme Court petition.
— Safehouse (@SafehousePhilly) October 13, 2021
“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”
That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.
“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.
A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.
Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.
If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.
The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.