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U.S. Army Clarifies That Biden’s Marijuana Pardons Don’t Apply To Military Personnel



A new notice this week from the U.S. Army reminds military members that President Joe Biden’s (D) recent pardons for federal marijuana possession offenses don’t apply to violations of military drug policies.

“The proclamation does not cover military drug offenses under 10 U.S.C 112a,” says a blog post that the Army’s directorate of prevention, resilience and readiness published on Monday. “and therefore does not result in a pardon for military personnel, nor does it apply to the civilian drug-testing program.”

The post is referring to an pardon proclamation issued by the president in December that expanded a previous round of pardons for people with federal convictions for simple marijuana possession, attempted possession or use. The expansion for the first time applied to people who committed cannabis possession offenses on federal properties, though it still excludes large groups of people, such as those who violated military drug policies and many non-U.S. citizens.

As the Army’s recent post notes, as part of Biden’s initial 2022 announcement, the president also urged governors to issue marijuana pardons at the state level—which drew mixed reactions from gubernatorial offices across the country. Some officials replied they would take formal steps to review the president’s request, others touted actions already undertaken and yet others signaled they would not be following suit.

The president also called on federal health officials to begin reviewing the federal scheduling status of marijuana, which led a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation last year to move the substance to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act, alongside drugs like ketamine, anabolic steroids and Tylenol with codeine.

Despite pardon eligibility not extending to the military, the U.S. Army post says the administration’s actions were part of an effort to minimize the harm caused by cannabis prohibition

“Biden’s goal with this pardon and further evaluation of current marijuana regulations is to help those who may be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities,” it says, “and suffer other collateral consequences that arise from these convictions.”

A presidential pardon represents formal forgiveness for the violation, but it does not constitute an expungement, which typically involves sealing records.

In the year since the president first pardoned several thousands of people who’ve committed federal cannabis possession offenses, Biden has repeatedly pointed to the action as an example of how he’s fulfilling campaign promises—though he’s frequently misstated the scope of the clemency by suggesting people were released from prison and had their criminal records fully expunged.

While the action symbolically recognizes the country’s “failed approach” to marijuana policy, it also falls short of the president’s pledges to more holistically enact reform by federally legalizing medical cannabis and decriminalizing the plant.

If Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ultimately accepts the HHS recommendation to reschedule marijuana, that would not legalize programs already operating in most states. However, it would have a meaningful impact in other ways, for example by removing at least some barriers to research and allowing state-licensed cannabis businesses to take federal tax deductions extended to other legal businesses, as well as opening the doors to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of prescription cannabis products.

Despite the fact that public support for legalization has reached record highs, especially among the Democratic base, the president has declined to embrace the broader reform. After Ohio became the 24th state to enact legalization in November, for example, the White House affirmed that “nothing has changed” with Biden’s position on the issue.

While much of the legal cannabis industry has welcomed the Schedule III recommendation, both prohibitionists and some reform advocates have warned against the change, albeit for different reasons.

Last week U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) told Marijuana Moment that she’s “opposed” to the change, saying it could set the country back “another 50 years” on the path to federal legalization.

Many of the congresswoman’s colleagues, including fellow Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), have insisted that DEA should fully remove marijuana from the CSA rather than simply reschedule it. But Lee took that criticism a step further by explicitly opposing incremental rescheduling.

On the other side of the issue, a Republican congressman who has long opposed marijuana reform claimed in a letter to DEA that FDA came to a “misguided conclusion” to recommend rescheduling cannabis, challenging the health agency’s scientific standards and imploring DEA to dismiss them as it prepares to make a final determination.

Two coalitions representing veterans and law enforcement, meanwhile—including a group that counts DEA Administrator Anne Milgram among its members—came out in support of the change, pressing the Biden administration to go through with the Schedule III move.

Vice President Kamala Harris’s office has been reaching out to people who’ve received a cannabis pardon—seeking assurance that the Justice Department certification process is going smoothly and engaging in broader discussions about cannabis policy reform, according to a pardon recipient who was contacted.

The Justice Department has already begun issuing pardon certificates for people who applied under the president’s second expanded proclamation.

Separately, FDA recently highlighted its scientific review into marijuana that led the agency to recommend rescheduling—a process that involved a comprehensive analysis of research, as well looking at hundreds of posts on social media platforms to see how consumers described cannabis’s therapeutic impact.

Congresswoman Tells DEA To ‘Reject Any Argument’ That Marijuana Rescheduling Would Violate International Treaties

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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