Biden Issues Pardon for Federal Simple Marijuana Possession Charges and Convictions

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On Oct. 6, 2022, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation pardoning those convicted of or charged with simple marijuana possession in at the federal level between the 1970s and Oct. 6, 2022. Anyone charged on Oct. 7, 2022 or later is not included in this pardon. [1] [2]

People charged or convicted of “conspiracy, distribution, possession with intent to distribute, and other charges involving marijuana are not pardoned by the proclamation,” according to the Justice Department. Also not included are people who are charged or convicted of possessing multiple drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine. People with state marijuana charges and convictions are not included in the pardon either. [3]

White House officials stated that between 1992 and 2021 more than 6,500 people have been convicted of simple possession by the federal government. Thousands more included in the pardon were convicted in DC. The pardon will not release anyone from prison as no one was being held only on simple marijuana possession at the time of the pardon. [2] [3]

In a Twitter thread on @potus and video on @whitehouse, Biden stated: “Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives – for conduct that is legal in many states. That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs. I’d also like to note that as federal and state regulations change, we still need important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales of marijuana. As I’ve said before, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Today, I’m taking steps to end our failed approach.” Biden continued, “No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. It’s legal in many states, and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences. While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.” [4] [5]

As called to by Biden, some governors are looking to follow the federal lead, including North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, by legalizing marijuana and or pardoning convictions. According to NPR’s Ximena Bustillo, five states will vote on marijuana legalization in the Nov. 2022 midterm elections: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota. [6] [7]

Others, including Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), believe the pardon to be a misguided political move ahead of a contentious election that could see Biden’s party lose control of Congress. Cotton tweeted, “In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders—many of whom pled down from more serious charges. This is a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership.” [8]

The White House Twitter account added, “Additionally, @POTUS asked @SecBecerra and the Attorney General to initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Marijuana is currently classified at the same level as heroin – and above fentanyl.” Marijuana is currently a Schedule I drug, with federal law stating the drug is illegal with no medical uses. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Marijuana is currently classified as more dangerous than fentanyl and methamphetamine. [2] [5] [7]

19 states and DC have legalized recreational marijuana, while 37 and DC have legalized medical marijuana.

A Nov. 4, 2021 Gallup poll found 68% of Americans supported legalizing marijuana. [9]

Discussion Questions

1. Should marijuana be legalized at the federal level? Why or why not?

2. Should marijuana be rescheduled by the federal government? Why or why not?

3. Should state governors pardon those charged or convicted of simple marijuana possession? Should other marijuana-related crimes be pardoned by the president or governors? Explain your answers.


1. White House, “A Proclamation on Granting Pardon for the Offense of Simple Possession of Marijuana,”, Oct. 6, 2022

2. Equal Justice Initiative, “President Biden Pardons Marijuana Possession Convictions,”, Oct. 7, 2022

3. Maegan Vazquez and Aditi Sangal, “Here’s Who Is Not Eligible for Biden’s Marijuana Pardon,”, Oct. 8, 2022

4. Joe Biden,, Oct. 6, 2022

5. White House,, Oct. 6, 2022

6. Jon Brown, “North Carolina Governor Pushes to Legalize Marijuana Possession after Biden Pardons: ‘End This Stigma,’”, Oct. 9, 2022

7. Ximena Bustillo, “Biden to Pardon Simple Federal Marijuana Possession Convictions,”, Oct. 6, 2022

8. Tom Cotton,, Oct. 6, 2022

9. Gallup, “Support for Legal Marijuana Holds at Record High of 68%,”, Nov. 4, 2021