President Joe Biden has issued a proclamation declaring April “Second Chance Month” for people who have served time in prison, and in the document he took the opportunity to tout his marijuana pardons and address the collateral consequences of cannabis convictions.
The proclamation, issued on Friday, isn’t directly focused on marijuana clemency. It’s more broadly meant to raise attention to “helping people forge the new beginnings they have earned and building a safer and more just society.”
Biden said that his administration has worked to prevent crime and break “the cycle of recidivism,” and part of that effort involved granting a mass cannabis pardon late last year for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses.
He said that the White House has “taken historic steps to end our Nation’s failed approach to marijuana.”
“Sending people to prison for possession has upended too many lives for conduct that many States no longer prohibit,” the proclamation says. “It has seen Black and Brown Americans disproportionately arrested, prosecuted, and convicted; and imposed unfair barriers to housing, employment, and education.”
“Last fall, I announced a full pardon for Federal and D.C. simple possession offenses, while calling on other elected officials to do the same at the State and local levels where most marijuana prosecutions take place,” it says.
While presidential pardons do symbolically represent formal forgiveness by the federal government, there’s some debate about the extent to which they actually impact “unfair barriers” to things like housing, as the records aren’t expunged and could still be used against people in certain circumstances, according to congressional researchers.
The White House similarly argued that the pardons could lift social and economic barriers as part of a factsheet that was released ahead of the president’s State of the Union address in February.
In February, the president separately signed an executive order on promoting equity within the White House and federal agencies that also mentioned the earlier marijuana pardons.
Biden’s related push for state-level relief could deliver more meaningful results for those who’ve been caught up in cannabis criminalization. He’s repeatedly noted his message to governors, but this proclamation’s mention of local clemency is a new detail he’s promoting.
The Justice Department also recently released applications for people who received the pardon to get a formal certification showing that they’ve been forgiven.
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In addition to pardoning several thousand people, Biden additionally directed federal agencies to complete an administrative review into federal marijuana scheduling. Officials have committed to carrying out that review expeditiously, though the exact timing is unclear.
More than a dozen bipartisan congressional lawmakers sent a letter to top Biden administration officials last month, demanding transparency in the ongoing marijuana scheduling review.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a Senate hearing last month that DOJ is “still working on a marijuana policy” while awaiting the results of the scientific review from health agencies.