Black Churches React to Biden’s Pardons for Marijuana Possession

President Joe Biden announced today that he would pardon thousands of people convicted on federal marijuana possession charges and expunge their records to remove unfair obstacles to them becoming contributing members of society and free to participate in social and economic activities to improve their quality of life. 

The pardons, which Biden and his long-time friend and commander-in-chief Barack Obama have contended for years that enforcement and punishment for simple marijuana possession had been doled out unfairly and that Black Americans were disproportionately impacted by these low-level crimes.

Biden reportedly is encouraging governors and state officials to examine local policies for marijuana possession and to not only pardon convicted offenders but to also work with the  Department of Health and Human Services to consider removing cannabis from the list of so-Schedule 1 drugs, which also includes hardcore substances like heroin, cocaine and meth.

Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC), released the following statement on President Biden’s marijuana reforms.

“We have witnessed one of the ultimate acts of compassion ever committed by a President. Generations of Black Americans – often young men – were confined to years behind bars on simple possession charges.

It wasn’t enough that their futures were ripped from them; they faced endless barriers to rebuilding their lives upon their release. President Biden’s decision to pardon thousands of federal offenses is a second chance that countless have been waiting for.

The Conference of National Black Churches offers their support to those who find themselves free of this undue burden. We pray that governors of states that hope to legalize marijuana follow the President’s leadership by also pardoning these offenses. Such an action is a moral imperative before we advance equitable marijuana policies.”

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail for just using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a statement announcing the pardons.

“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. 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.”

It’s unclear exactly how many people will receive pardons under Biden’s order. The Justice Department issued a statement saying it would “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.”

Currently, 19 states have fully legalized marijuana use or possession for either medicinal or recreational purposes, and local prosecutors in some states that haven’t are increasingly choosing to not pursue cases against people caught with weed as a matter of policy. And, while legalized weed has turned into a multibillion-dollar industry, many consumers and businesses in states that have decriminalized still have trouble navigating the legal and economic impact and intricacies for regulating sale and consumption.

Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President of the National Action Network (NAN), issued the following statement on President Biden’s marijuana reforms, which include a historic decision to pardon of 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 today 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 jail house.” 

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