Last week, President Joe Biden granted clemency to dozens of individuals with non-violent federal drug convictions and commuted the sentences of 75 people who were serving time at home because of the pandemic. He also issued three pardons.
“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption and rehabilitation,” Biden said in a statement. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities. During Second Chance Month, I am using my authority under the Constitution to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow Americans.”
Cannabis industry opinions on this move were divided. Many praised the action thinking this was just the beginning of broader reforms to come, while others like Jacob Plowden, New York director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said the industry was expecting more. He called Biden’s clemency “a bait and switch of promises geared towards federal legalization.”
Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) condemned the clemency move for other reasons, attacking the action in general, on the Senate floor last week, saying a “crime spree is coming from a tiny minority of Louisville residents,” adding that this is a nationwide problem, thanks to “President Biden’s failure to secure our borders.”
“We need officials at all levels to back the blue, crack down on crime, and reestablish law and order,” McConnell spewed. “But the Biden Administration gives us the opposite.”
He went on to attack Biden’s decision to commute the sentences of those incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses.
“Just yesterday, the President issued a giant catalog of pardons and commutations, cutting sentence after sentence, particularly for convicted drug criminals,” McConnell said. “They never miss an opportunity to send the wrong signal. And until federal, state, and local Democrats get with the program, innocent people in Louisville and across the country will continue to suffer.”
Biden & Cannabis: Is Big Reform Coming Soon?
What is Biden’s stance on cannabis legalization?
The truth is, it’s not really clear although, during his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden repeatedly said he wanted to see marijuana decriminalized and prior cannabis convictions automatically expunged.
After a full year in the Oval Office, Americans have seen neither.
Although the president has been under pressure from all sides, he hasn’t budged despite numerous letters from marijuana advocates, lawmakers, celebrities, and those who have been, and still are, negatively affected by the war on drugs including those who are behind bars for marijuana-related convictions.
Is it possible that granting clemency was actually the first move towards broader reform and the cannabis-related actions Biden promised during his campaign? Or was it just bait and switch?
Either way, federal cannabis reform still needs to get 60 votes in Senate, before it reaches the President’s desk. This means it would need at least 10 votes from Republicans if all Democrats approve it, which many industry experts don’t believe is possible. Seeing that some Republicans don’t even support these “baby steps” like clemency action, it appears cannabis industry veterans could be right — reform is not happening as quickly as many had hoped.