Is President Biden’s Marijuana Pardon Enough for Black People? Some Say Yes   

President Joe Biden pardons marijuana for select citizens.


Earlier this Fall, President Joe Biden pardoned a simple possession of marijuana in a proclamation.  

In October, his act now grants an unconditional pardon to all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who committed the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. The pardon will restore to those convicted full political, civil and other rights.   

Biden said in his speech that the intent of this proclamation is to pardon only the offense of simple possession of marijuana and not any other offenses related to marijuana or other controlled substances.   

“This pardon does not apply to individuals who were non-citizens not lawfully present in the United States at the time of their offense,” Biden said.  

Biden previously said that during his campaign for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.   

“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and Brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and Brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates…. 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.”  

Biden is also urging all governors to do the same concerning state offenses because such as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, “no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.… Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”   

Justice Department Spokesman Anthony Coley said that the proclamation is making big changes.  

“The Justice Department will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil and other rights to those convicted of that offense. In coming days, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will begin implementing a process to provide impacted individuals with certificates of pardon,” Coley said. “Also, in accordance with the President’s directive, Justice Department officials will work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services as they launch a scientific review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”  

It’s not clear exactly how many people will receive pardons under Biden’s order, the Atlanta Daily World reported.   

Local prosecutors in some states that haven’t completely legalized marijuana use or possession for medicinal or recreational purposes are increasingly choosing not to pursue prosecutions against persons caught with it as a matter of policy. Michigan is one of the 19 states that has done so. Additionally, although the legalization of marijuana has given rise to a multibillion-dollar industry, many customers and businesses in states that have decriminalized the drug still struggle to understand its economic and legal ramifications and the complexities of regulating its sale and use.  

According to the Atlanta Daily World, Rev. Al Sharpton, the founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN) ,released the following statement regarding President Biden’s marijuana reforms, which include a historic choice to pardon all federal offenses of simple possession.  

“The United States will never justly legalize marijuana until it reckons with the outdated policies that equated thousands of young Black men with hardened drug pushers. President Biden’s righteous action … will give countless Americans their lives back. They were thrown behind bars for years on end for simple possession, a non-violent offense, for a substance that red states and blue states are now legalizing at a furious clip. This held them back from jobs, homes and the general dignity they now get back with this full pardon. The National Action Network began pushing for these reforms nearly a decade ago when it became clear the conversation around legalization began to change. We will continue to monitor the legalization and hold the federal government to its word. I echo the President’s call on governors to follow suit and deliver this same justice at the state level. They cannot legalize marijuana at the state house until they rectify what went on at the jailhouse.”  

According to The New York Times, the president’s pardons will affect thousands more people in the District of Columbia and around 6,500 people who were convicted of marijuana possession under federal law.  

Biyyiah Lee is a cannabis nurse educator.


Biyyiah Lee, a cannabis nurse educator, told the Michigan Chronicle that there are “layers” to a cannabis conviction and that just because something is associated with cannabis (before Biden’s pardon) does not mean the crime would automatically be expunged.  

In addition to the pardon, Lee said that from an equity component, “More can be done,” she said, adding that from an equity component, extensive funding needs to be accessible in Michigan to help those with cannabis-related convictions navigate the expungement process with legal assistance.

Ebony Smith, a co-founder of Midwest CannaNurses

Native Detroiter and registered nurse Ebony Smith, a co-founder of Midwest CannaNurses, has a rich history in the social equity field and is passionate about bringing awareness to the benefits of using cannabis for medicinal purposes and recreation.  

Smith said that Biden’s pardon is an extremely critical move for the BIPOC community and beyond.  

“It also just creates opportunity for persons of color to have their voices heard…expand and reach diverse communities for folks using cannabis as medicine,” she said, adding that in her corner of the world many people use cannabis for medical purposes, however, it’s time for more.  

“I am hopeful to see more organizations and communities come on board and support efforts of cannabis here in Michigan,” she said. 


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