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Former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, gives a speech on July 11, 2019 in New York City.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, gives a speech on July 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Justice Reform Coalition Urges Biden to Pardon All Non-Violent Marijuana Convictions

"It is past time for the harm to stop."

Andrea Germanos

A coalition of drug reform advocates on Monday urged President Joe Biden to follow through on his campaign promises and signal the nation is "truly taking a new course" by expunging the records of those with non-violent marijuana convictions.

In a letter (pdf) sent Monday, the groups—including National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the just-launched U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC)—pointed to a national criminal justice system "in urgent need of reform" and called for a general  pardon of those currently and formerly incarcerated.

"Cannabis prohibition ruins lives, wastes resources, and is opposed by a large majority of Americans," the group wrote.

They also referenced Illinois' Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker pardoning last month of more than 11,000 individuals with low-level cannabis conviction, saying that action "showcased the important role of clemency in achieving justice and equity."

Lasting harm from such criminal records casts a wide net, affecting areas including job opportunities and housing, they said.  The letter likened that harm to the "baggage of the war on marijuana" that "continues to undermine that person's life and diminish their prospects."

"It is past time for the harm to stop," they wrote.

The group helped make their case by referencing comments Biden made on marijuana decriminalization during a presidential primary debate in 2019 when he said people should have "their records expunged, be completely zeroed out." The letter also pointed to Biden's day-one order saying the nation deserved a "whole-of-government equity agenda."

The latter comment, they wrote, is especially relevant in light of the "profound" and "long-term harm of cannabis prohibition in communities of color." They added:

As we look to solutions to provide healing, the dangerous policing tactics that were developed to execute the war on marijuana, including no-knock warrants and other aggressive tactics, shock the nation and have led us to historic levels of mistrust. When a large majority of Americans no longer believe cannabis should be illegal, aggressive enforcement tactics quickly lose support.

A general pardon of all former and current federal non-violent cannabis offenders would be the kind of grand, ambitious, and impactful action that would effectively signal to marginalized communities that their suffering is seen and that the government seeks to remedy their harms.

NORML also urging people to sign a petition to Biden expunge all non-violent marijuana records.

In a statement, NORML executive director Erik Altieri highlighted the president's own promises.

"President Biden was crystal clear on the campaign trail that his administration would prioritize criminal justice reform, and he explicitly highlighted his desire to 'zero out' the records of those suffering from the stigma of a federal marijuana conviction," said Altieri.

"Following through on this campaign promise," he continued, "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."


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