He will also direct U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland to review how marijuana is classified under federal law as a Schedule I drug, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s most dangerous classification that includes substances like heroin and LSD.
“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 in a statement.
Biden plans to call on governors to follow suit with state offenses related to simple marijuana possession.
“Just 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,” Biden will say.
The move is intended to address the country’s “failed approach to marijuana,” a senior administration official said Thursday afternoon minutes before the announcement.
Civil rights organizations and researchers have shown that charges for marijuana possession disproportionately affect Black and brown communities. For example, the ACLU found that Black people were 3.7 times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession compared to white people.
Senior administration officials said that even if a person has not been charged or convicted of a marijuana possession, as of Thursday’s date, “the pardon does cover that conduct.”
The Department of Justice will create an administrative process for those who are pardoned to obtain a certificate of their pardon “so that they will have documentation that they can show to law enforcement, employers and others as needed,” a senior administration official said.
States began decriminalizing or legalizing recreational use of marijuana in 2012, when Colorado and Washington voters passed statewide ballot measures. Over the next decade, 17 more states followed suit. Those states have operated for years in conflict with federal laws that have kept the substance strictly illegal.
The U.S. House passed legislation earlier this year to legalize marijuana nationally, but the bill failed to gain traction in the Senate.
The House voted 220-204 to approve the measure, which would fix the split between federal law and states where recreational marijuana is legal. Three Republicans joined all but two Democrats in approving the measure.