President Joe Biden has pardoned federal offenses for marijuana possession. Before we get a little serious, I want to give credit where it’s due. On the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the host called this the “Green New Deal.” That’s a pretty good joke. Kudos to him. Alright, now, moving on.
An early estimate says the pardons will affect roughly 6,500 people convicted of federal simple marijuana possession between 1992 to 2021. If states follow the federal government’s lead at President Biden’s urging, the number of impacted people will skyrocket. While the Biden administration’s pardons are a great step towards justice and righting the wrongs of this country, they’re kind of like its student loan forgiveness plan: a decent measure that doesn’t go quite far enough.
The pardons do not apply to people convicted of selling weed. This is concerning because Black and Brown people are currently doing time for distributing a drug that’s turning people—majority of them white—into folks shrouded in wealth. There’s no justice if people rot in prison for doing whatever they need to do to survive (a hallmark of Americana) while others enjoy riches for doing the exact same thing, regardless of their legal status.
On the positive side, Biden made remarks that he has asked the attorney general to examine marijuana’s legal classification. The federal government classifies weed as a Schedule 1 substance—the exact same as heroin and LSD, and a more serious classification than fentanyl. “It makes no sense,” the president said. This isn’t something the administration should merely look into, though. It needs to be a necessary step.
The news will undoubtedly do good because, as with all policing, the policing of marijuana has disproportionately affected Black people. A 2022 study of cannabis possession arrests in Texas that took a look at 2017 to 2019 found Black people made up 30.2 percent of all possession arrests, but only 12.9 percent of the Lone Star’s population. According to the ACLU, Black people were six times as likely to get arrested for possession in 2010.
The damage the war on drugs has done to Black people is insurmountable. Some have gone as far as calling it the new Jim Crow. Biden needs to go as far as he can to rectify the damage. Pardon all non-violent drug offenders immediately. And while we’re at it, let’s talk reparations, too.