Contrary to a pledge he made last week, Andrew Yang won’t be pardoning all non-violent drug offenders if elected president, he clarified on Sunday. The opportunity for mass clemency will apply exclusively to people convicted of violating federal marijuana laws.
During an interview on ABC’s This Week, the 2020 Democratic candidate walked back comments he made at an earlier rally in which he said he would grant pardons to “everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent, drug-related offense” on the cannabis holiday of April 20, 2021 and give them high fives “on their way out of jail.”
Journalist George Stephanopoulos played a clip from the event and asked Yang if his plan “includes cocaine dealers, opioid dealers.”
The candidate started by saying that the country needs to confront the opioid crisis, and he argued that decriminalizing opioids would be part of the solution. But in terms of presidential pardons, Yang said “in that particular segment, I was referring to marijuana-related drug offenses specifically.”
“So only marijuana, not all non-violent drug offenders?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“Yeah, that’s correct,” Yang said.
While Yang’s proposal to decriminalize opioids sets his drug policy platform apart from those of his Democratic opponents, campaigning on a plan to pardon all non-violent drug offenders would have seriously distinguished his campaign.
Presidential pardons only apply to federal convictions but, even so, mass clemency would have impacted tens of thousands of individuals and sent a strong signal to states.
It seems Yang isn’t quite willing to go as far as he intimated during last week’s rally, however.
.@AndrewYang at #NANconv2019: "I would legalize marijuana and then I would pardon everyone who's in jail for a nonviolent drug-related offense. I would pardon them on April 20, 2021 and I would high-five them on the way out of jail." pic.twitter.com/wqELzL9TwO
— The Hill (@thehill) April 3, 2019
That said, his campaign site does include a policy of identifying non-violent drug offenders “for probation and potential early release” in addition to expunging the records of individuals with prior cannabis convictions.
That puts him in similar standing to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who also said he would consider granting mass pardons and commutations for marijuana offenders.
Photo courtesy of ABC News.