In a move that could signal the Biden administration’s commitment to federally rescheduling of marijuana, the U.S. Department of Justice is now accepting applications for pardons from individuals convicted of or charged with simple MJ possession in federal or District of Columbia courts.
The DOJ made the announcement nearly five months after President Joe Biden on Oct. 6 called for such pardons as well as a review of marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
Friday’s announcement is the Biden administration’s latest tangible move on marijuana policy reform and follows a near-unprecedented series of friendly public statements about the drug.
On March 1, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland told a Senate committee that the DOJ is “working on a (review) of marijuana policy” at the federal level.
Garland said the agency could ultimately issue a policy document “very close to what was done in the Cole Memorandum.”
The Cole Memo – an Obama-era nonbinding document that helped guide state laws on both recreational and medical marijuana and provided state-legal MJ businesses guidelines to follow to avoid federal attention – was rescinded in 2018 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Days before Garland’s Senate appearance, Biden highlighted the pardons during a Black History Month speech, referring specifically to the racial inequities in marijuana arrests.
“Too many minorities are in prison for” marijuana, he said. “We should pardon them, expunge their records as if it never happened so (they) have a chance again in society.”
And, in December, Biden became the first president since Richard Nixon to sign a stand-alone marijuana measure into law when he affixed his signature to a bipartisan research bill.
Congressional leaders such as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have tried to put more ambitious marijuana reform measures on Biden’s desk, including banking reform, but have so far been unable to overcome a mostly partisan deadlock.