🍁 Biden's Pot Shot
The US's war on drugs is not over, nor are our (sadly) world-leading incarceration rates, but both were dealt a heavy blow last week when President Biden pardoned thousands of people federally convicted of simple marijuana possession. "Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives — for conduct that is legal in many states," Biden said on Twitter. "That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs." The 46th President was clear in citing the racial disparity in incarceration rates between white, black, and brown cannabis users, despite their roughly equal usage of the substance.
In July, a group of Senators that include Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wrote to President Biden stating that, "the administration’s failure to coordinate a timely review of its cannabis policy is harming thousands of Americans, slowing research, and depriving Americans of their ability to use marijuana for medical or other purposes," notes The New York Times.
But not everyone is in agreement. "No one deserves to be in jail for a joint," Kevin Sabet, who runs an organization opposing full marijuana legalization said, adds The Times. "But we should also not be selling highly potent THC products, nor should we promote and encourage use among young people."
While the Federal Government tends to prosecute only marijuana trafficking and not petty possession cases, states do the majority of cannabis regulation and prosecution. Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis.
The Cole Memorandum
In August of 2013, under then-president Obama, the Justice Department issued the Cole Memorandum in response to Colorado and Washington's legalization of cannabis. In it, the DOJ outlines how, "based on assurances that those states will impose an appropriately strict regulatory system," it had deferred "its right to challenge their legalization laws at this time." This effectively allowed states to legalize and regulate cannabis without federal interference. In 2018, however, the Trump Administration "told [federal] prosecutors to use established prosecutorial principles and their own judgment when prosecuting — or declining to pursue — marijuana charges," writes USA Today. In February 2021, Roll Call notes, Biden's Attorney General Merrick Garland told Senators that he would comply with the Cole Memorandum as he did not believe prosecuting cannabis-related crimes would be worth the department's time.
Biden's pardons are long overdue from the federal government, as are his recommendations that cannabis be rescheduled. Of course, the move is more symbolic than anything, but the hope is that more states decriminalize and pardon.