top of page

Welcome to Crime and Justice News

Biden's Weed Waiver: More Symbolism Than Substance?

Although hailed as both a practical and symbolic advance of great significance for the marijuana-legalization cause, President Biden's announced blanket pardon of low-level federal marijuana offenders will have a limited effect — unless it is widely adopted by the states.

By pardoning everyone convicted of "simple possession" of marijuana under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, Biden's move affects a tiny sliver of the federal prison population, which itself represents a tiny sliver of all drug-possession cases, which are largely a matter handled under state law.

"Without new legislation, marijuana use will remain a crime under federal law, as will growing and selling marijuana," wrote Jacob Sullum for Reason. Likewise, Biden's call on federal agencies to rethink marijuana's classification among the most dangerous drugs, "will make medical research easier, [but] it will not make cannabis legally available to patients unless and until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves specific products as safe and effective," Sullum wrote.

Despite the pardons, federal law still makes simple marijuana possession punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Growing or selling marijuana are still federal felonies. And cannabis consumers who own guns are still subject to stiff prison sentences, a police the Biden administration is defending in court.

Still, pardons and other steps by the federal government can carry heavy symbolic weight and prompt hesitant states and cities to follow, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Even if just Blue State governors were to pick up Biden’s call, we’d be talking about tens of thousands of people,” said Douglas Berman, a law professor who specializes in drug sentencing policy at the Ohio State University.

At the federal level alone, the pardons will affect 6,500 people convicted of federal offenses for simple possession from 1992 to 2021, as well as thousands of people in Washington, D.C., according to senior administration officials.

The president is taking the steps after some lawmakers in both parties expressed support for decriminalizing marijuana possession, but opposition from other lawmakers derailed the prospects for legislation.

Due to the political sensitivities, the Biden administration had been sidestepping taking a stand on decriminalizing marijuana possession.

Biden, while campaigning for president, had championed loosening of marijuana laws and said he would decriminalize marijuana, which would prevent people from being incarcerated for possession, and expunge criminal records.

The transformation of Biden into "unlikely stoner hero" is perhaps the most notable shift, David A. Graham wrote in The Atlantic. His perfectly timed (in political terms) announcement follows a career of both personal and professional distancing from recreational marijuana use and legalization, a step already taken by 20 states.

Graham wrote, "You don’t get to have a long career in politics, though, unless you can tell which way the wind is blowing—and detect the aromas it carries."


Recent Posts

See All

Where Youth Violence Rages, Questions About Federal Aid

Although the federal government is investing billions of dollars into combatting firearm injuries, students living under the shadow of gun violence say there's a disconnect between what the government

100 Protesters Arrested After Columbia U Calls In NYPD

As more universities struggle to balance free-speech rights with shielding students from harassment and threats of violence, Columbia University officials summoned New York police to respond to a stud


A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

bottom of page