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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

Biden pardons thousands of marijuana offenders, gives clemency to 11 people

US President Joe Biden has pardoned thousands of people convicted of use and simple possession of marijuana on federal lands and in the District of Columbia, says the White House.

Friday’s action, Biden’s latest in executive clemencies meant to rectify racial disparities in the justice system, broadened the criminal offences covered by the pardon.

Biden has also granted clemency to 11 people serving what the White House called “disproportionately long” sentences for non-violent drug offences.

In a statement, he said his actions would help make the “promise of equal justice a reality”.

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” Biden said.

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

The categorical pardon built on a similar round issued just before the 2022 midterm elections that pardoned thousands convicted of simple possession on federal lands.

The US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but a fifth of its prisoners, and a disproportionate number of them are people of colour, a large segment of Biden’s support base.

Biden has been gearing up for an intense year of campaigning in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election as his popularity sags, especially among young people.

Some of the people pardoned were serving life sentences, the White House said, including Earlie Deacon Barber of Alabama for cocaine distribution and Deondre Cordell Higgins of Missouri for distributing crack cocaine.

Given recent reforms, each would have been eligible for reduced sentences if they were sentenced today.

Some of the long sentences reflect longstanding disparities in sentencing for crack-vs-powder cocaine convictions. Legal experts have now said that such punishments do not aid public safety and disproportionately affect Black communities.

Biden’s new marijuana proclamation pardoned people who were “committed or were convicted of the offense of simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana,” including for use and possession on certain federal lands.

As of January 2022, no offenders sentenced solely for simple possession of marijuana were in federal prisons, the US Sentencing Commission found this year.

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