From Gateway Joe to Pardon Biden, the President Issues Bold Pot Proclamation

Pres. Joe Biden (AP photo) and his marijuana proclamation

Joe Biden cleared the air today about cannabis. In a stunning proclamation, the President granted pardons to people convicted federally of simple marijuana possession charges. This involves at least 6,500 people around the country convicted between 1992 and 2021 as well as thousands of Washington, DC residents. Those convicted of trafficking and cultivation will not be pardoned at this point. 

Biden stated: "I have directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals. There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions."

He's also "urging all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses."

Probably more significant is the third part of his statement: "I am asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law."

Currently, it's a Schedule I drug with no accepted medical benfits. Biden has said he'd like to move it to Schedule III rather than deschedule altogether.

This is a major move, albeit an incremental one. Cannabis prisoners are not being released, which has been called for by NORML and other drug-reform organizations. Of the approximately 40,000 American prisoners in jail for pot, 3,000 are in federal lockup and the vast majority were not convicted for possession. Asking red states to follow his lead is wishful thinking.

NORML activist Chris Goldstein, who was busted for possession at a 2013 pot protest at Independence Hall, federal property in Philadelphia, is among the 6,500 to receive a pardon. “As someone who voted for President Biden, I’ve been expecting this from the first day he came into office,” he commented. “This was a campaign promise. I’m thrilled, and everyone like me is going to be just as thrilled."

As recently as 2017, Biden took the position that marijuana was a gateway to hard drugs like heroin, meth and coke. He refused to call for decriminalization, insisting that more research needed to be done.

But he also made campaign promises in 2020 that activists are holding him to, like:

"It should not be a crime. It should be to the extent that it exists for anyone who has ever been convicted of marijuana and put in jail, they should be immediately released, their records should immediately be expunged." 

President Biden: "Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs."

Doubling down, Biden noted then: "First of all we should decriminalize marijuana. I've been pushing that for a while, period. No. 2, medical marijiuana should be approved. No. 3, anyone convicted of a marijuana offense, in the past, present or future, has their record wiped clean."

With today's news out of Washington, there's renewed hope that the White House is paying attention to what's happening in the states - 37 have medicalized and 19 outright are legal for adults. 

As Biden concluded, "Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs."



Last Prisoner Project executive director Sarah Gerston tells CelebStoner: “We're thrilled that President Biden has taken this initial action to pardon thousands of individuals suffering the collateral consequences of a cannabis conviction. While we will continue to call on his administration to release those still incarcerated in federal prison for cannabis offenses other than simple possession, these grants are an important first step in acknowledging the need to repair the harms of prohibition. We look forward to continuing to work with the Biden administration on broader clemency grants, the release of every federal cannabis prisoner and the federal legalization of cannabis."

NORML executive director Erik Altieri stated in an article: "Many of the efforts taken and proposed by the President today are long overdue. For nearly two years, NORML has called upon the Administration to fulfill the President’s campaign promise to provide relief to those stigmatized with a low-level cannabis conviction. We are pleased that today President Biden is following through on this pledge and that he's also encouraging governors to take similar steps to ensure that the tens of millions of Americans with state-level convictions for past marijuana crimes can finally move forward with their lives. Since 1965, nearly 29 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana-related violations - for activities that the majority of voters no longer believe ought to be a crime.

“Moving forward, the Administration must work collaboratively with Congressional leadership to repeal America’s failed marijuana criminalization laws. Nearly half of voters now agree that legalizing marijuana ought to be a priority for Congress, and such action can only be taken by descheduling cannabis and repealing it from the U.S. Controlled Substances Act - thereby regulating it in a manner similar to alcohol. Congress should be inspired by the Administration’s actions today to act quickly and send legislation to the President’s desk that would help close this dark chapter of our history.”

Kassandra Frederique: "This is incredibly long overdue."

Marijuana Policy Project executive director Toi Hutchinson commented in a press release: “MPP is grateful for the action President Biden has taken today, which is a historic step forward towards reducing the lasting harm from the failed war on cannabis that has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown people and economically challenged communities across the country. Not only will thousands of lives be improved by removing this burden, but it also sends a powerful message to states that it's time to end prohibition and give people the tools they need to live full productive lives without the shackles of the criminal justice system. 

“This news will generate continued momentum in the five states where cannabis is on the ballot in November and should our advocates on the ground be successful, half of all states in our nation will have legalized cannabis.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) issued the following statement via email: "I applaud President Biden's action to pardon federal marijuana offenses, which is something I advocated for him to do in my role as Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. The President is taking an historic step towards ending the federal government's failed and discriminatory prohibition on cannabis. I welcome this both because it is long overdue, and in part because no person – especially those targeted in the failed War on Drugs – should be imprisoned for mere cannabis possession. The Administration has the opportunity to do more, and I will continue working to ensure that our pending legislation in Congress keeps moving forward."

Drug Policy Alliance executive director Kassandra Frederique told AP: "This is incredibly long overdue,” said Frederique. “There is no reason that people should be saddled with a criminal record - preventing them from obtaining employment, housing, and countless other opportunities - for something that is already legal in 19 states and D.C. and decriminalized in 31 states.”

Bill Maher: "More credit to him because Joe really doesn't know anything about pot. He thinks THC is that channel that shows the old movies."

Rep Barbare Lee (D-CA) tweeted"We have people still sitting in jail for possession of marijuana while others are able to run and profit from chain dispensaries. Where is the fairness in that? Legalize marijuana. Release those incarcerated with marijuana charges. It’s simple."

SSDP executive director Jason Ortiz posted at Facebook: "We are thrilled that a campaign united across generational lines with student leading the charge successfully pressured the President to make bold progress on criminal justice reforms. This is crystal example of direct action working action working and why we are excited  and why we are excited for our mass action on October 24 to make sure President Biden continues this progress and releases federal cannabis prisoners. This is a great first step, but we will not stop until all of our cannabis prisoners are returned to their families."

Women Grow president Gia Mirón noted in an email: "Although this is long overdue for the many lives who have paid a hefty price, we are encouraged by President Biden’s announcement to pardon federal offenses for simple marijuana possession and believe he is moving in the right direction toward federal legalization. We applaud the President for calling on state leadership to follow the order of pardons and asking the Attorney General to initiate the process to review descheduling under federal law. Our fight is not over, but we are grateful to see this turn. Let’s keep pushing to help restore lives, justice and reform."

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman told AP“This action from President Biden is exactly what this work should be about: improving people’s lives. I commend the president for taking this significant, necessary and just step to right a wrong and better the lives of millions of Americans,”

National Cannabis Industry Association CEO Aaron Smith observed in an email: “We commend this important and necessary step to begin the process of repairing the harms of prohibition and look forward to working with Congress and the administration to develop policies that would ultimately solve the underlying problems in our outdated cannabis policies. It’s imperative that we finally harmonize state and federal laws so that Main Street cannabis businesses can supplant underground markets and nobody is ever again put behind bars for a nonviolent marijuana crime. Removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act is the only way to achieve those goals.”

Doug McVay: "Today marks a big step forward."

Bill Maher on Real Time: "Today, I really know why you're happy, because Biden pardoned everyone who has been convicted of simple possession of marijuana. This is very smart because a lot of people in this country do smoke pot and they do show up to vote - not on the right day, but they do show up. MInd you all you ageists out there, who did this? The old president. Obama didn't do it. More credit to him because Joe really doesn't know anything about pot. He thinks THC is that channel that shows the old movies."  

Drug Policy Facts editor Doug McVay tells CelebStoner: "Today's statement by President Biden is hands down the best and clearest endorsement of marijuana policy reform by any U.S. President, especially as it was accompanied by a Presidential proclamation granting the blanket pardon of which he spoke. President Biden's statement fell far short in many respects: We need safe and legal supplies, safe spaces in which to consume and the decriminalization of people who use drugs - all drugs, not only marijuana. We have a lot of work to do, but today marks a big step forward." 

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) in her weekly newsletter: "We must always give credit where credit is due, and this is a great step forward."

"Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal at FB: "Thanks, Pres. Biden. But how about pardons for cultivation and sales? Reparations for collateral damage? For instance, prison time, revoked professional licenses and forfeitures. This is an important and historic step but we are not done yet!"


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.