Members of Congress urge Biden to pardon nonviolent cannabis convictions

Here’s hoping Joe Biden reads his mail

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Photo of President Joe Biden courtesy of the White House (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

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Here’s hoping Joe Biden reads his mail.

This week, the U.S. president received a pair of letters calling on him to pardon nonviolent offenders with convictions for federal cannabis crimes.

The latest missive came today. It arrived in a letter signed by 37 members of Congress, led by representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer. Lee and Blumenauer are co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

In the letter dated February 18, the members of Congress noted that the president (and former vice-president under Barack Obama) has “a unique ability to lead on criminal justice reform and provide immediate relief to thousands of Americans”.

“During your previous tenure at the White House, President Obama understood that decades of harsh and discriminatory federal drug laws unfairly trapped minority individuals and communities in cycles of despair,” they wrote. “That is why he used the tools of justice to grant clemency for 1,927 individuals convicted of federal crimes. Most of these individuals had been convicted on drug charges and would not have been sentenced so harshly, if at all, under today’s standards.

“Your Administration has the power to expand on this legacy and issue a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders in the U.S and trigger resentencing for all those who remain federally incarcerated on non-violent, cannabis-only offenses for activity now legal under state laws,” the letter continues.

NORML’s Presidents’ Day letter

Earlier in the week, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), along with a coalition of business groups and criminal justice reform advocates, sent their own letter to Biden.

“President Biden,” that letter read, “we urge you to clearly demonstrate your commitment to criminal justice reform by immediately issuing a general pardon to all former federal, non-violent cannabis offenders in the U.S.”

NORML sent its letter on February 15, which happened to be Presidents’ Day in the United States. At the same time, the organization released a petition calling for presidential pardons.

In a statement, NORML executive directior Erik Altieri said, “President Biden was crystal clear on the campaign trail that his administration would prioritize criminal justice reform, and he explicitly highlighted his desire to expunge the records of those suffering from the stigma of a federal marijuana conviction. Following through on this campaign promise would be an important first step in remedying the past wrongs associated with nearly a century of marijuana prohibition and healing the wounds of the many Americans who have needlessly suffered under this failed public policy. In 2021, it is readily apparent that the criminalization of cannabis, and the lifelong lost opportunities that come with a criminal marijuana conviction, causes far greater harm than the responsible use of cannabis itself.”

In response to the lawmakers’ letter, NORML political director Justin Strekal said: “We are tremendously grateful for the leadership of the Cannabis Caucus, particularly Representatives Barbara Lee and Earl Blumenauer, as they tirelessly lead this ongoing but hopefully soon to be finished fight for marijuana justice nationwide.”

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