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Biden Pardons Prior Federal Cannabis Offenders, Overhauling U.S. Policy on Marijuana

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden took steps to overhaul U.S. policy on marijuana on Thursday by pardoning thousands of people with federal offenses for simple marijuana possession and initiating a review of how the drug is classified.

Biden said thousands of people with prior federal convictions could be denied employment; housing or educational opportunities and his executive action would relieve such "collateral" consequences.

Nearly 40 U.S. states have legalized marijuana use in some form, but it remains completely illegal in some states and at the federal level. Reclassification would be a first step toward wider legalization, a move backed by a majority of Americans, and usher in sweeping changes for companies and law enforcement and impact millions.

The president's decision fulfills a campaign promise and is likely to please members in his left-leaning political base ahead of the November midterm elections in which the president's fellow Democrats are defending control of the House of Representatives and Senate.

"Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It's time that we right these wrongs," Biden said.

He urged state governors to follow suit.

"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 said.

A senior administration official said more than 6500 people with prior federal convictions could be affected by the pardons.

Supporters welcomed the move and its impact on racial imbalances in the U.S. justice system.

"The United States will never justly legalize marijuana until it reckons with the outdated policies that equated thousands of young Black men with hardened drug pushers," said Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network civil rights group.

Biden said he had directed Attorney General Merrick Garland to develop an "administrative process" to issue certificates of pardon to those who are eligible.

“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," the department said in a statement.

Biden said certain rules needed to stay in place even as regulations around the country loosened.

"Finally, even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place," Biden said.

The global cannabis industry is forecast to hit $55 billion in sales by 2026, with the U.S. market growing to $40 billion by then, up from $25 billion last year, according to cannabis focused research firm BDSA’s September projections.

Industry experts believe U.S. federal reforms could push those figures much higher.

SOURCE: Reuters


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