WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- President Joe Biden has granted pardons for those federally convicted of marijuana possession.
- The pardons will help thousands whose convictions had hindered them from employment and housing, but will only free a few from prison.
- The number of people imprisoned for simple drug possession has dwindled over the years.
Thousands of Americans who were federally convicted of marijuana possession have now been pardoned by President Joe Biden.
The president made the announcement in a Twitter thread and a video released by the White House on Thursday.
Biden reiterated his previous statements that “no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.”
The president aims to help thousands whose past convictions hindered them from employment and housing. However, the pardon will free only a few from prison.
The number of convictions and incarcerations for marijuana offenses has been in a decreasing trend throughout the years.
The United States Sentencing Commission reported that only 149 people convicted of simple marijuana possession were in federal prison during the fiscal year 2021, which ended last June. By comparison, that number reached over 2,000 in the fiscal year 2015.
There were 267 federal convictions for simple marijuana possession in 1997 and 160 in 2007. After the fiscal year 2017, which only had 92 incarcerations, the federal agency stopped reporting the numbers.
The vast majority of those imprisoned for marijuana offenses were convicted of trafficking, with 1,005 people in federal prison for the offense during the fiscal year 2021. In 2015, there were nearly 3,500.
Trafficking is also the conviction for the overwhelming majority of those in federal prison for drug offenses, including those involving heroin and cocaine. Most recently reported, the 17,608 people convicted of drug trafficking makes up about 30% of all federal prisoners. Only about 300 people (just 0.5% of the total prison population) are in prison for any sort of drug possession.
Criminal justice reform advocates acknowledged that the pardons will change thousands of lives and could signal a broader, bipartisan shift away from incarceration for cannabis. However, they are still calling for more actions to right the wrongs of the war on drugs.
Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, told Insider that “it’s hard to get some things done, especially on criminal justice,” since the Congress has “gotten so politicized.”
Since the vast majority of those imprisoned for drug possession are for state offenses, Biden called on governors to give similar pardons.
Ring hopes that the president continues to use “clemency authority in a smart way like this.”