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Lawmakers And Advocates Urge Biden To Grant Marijuana Clemency In Presidents Day Push

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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: 

Letter to President Biden P… by Marijuana Moment

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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