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Pot Pardons Show Biden's Limited Steps On Justice Reform

President Biden’s decision to pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law was an acknowledgment that his administration does not see possession of cannabis, with no intent to sell or distribute, as a public safety threat. The cases represent just a tiny number of those swept up in the decades-long war on drugs. Most marijuana convictions have been state crimes, which Biden does not have the authority to pardon. While many advocates welcomed the presidential act of forgiveness, they say far too many people — many of them Black and Latino — are not eligible for the pardons, leaving them with minor marijuana convictions that will continue to get in the way of job prospects, educational opportunities and financing for homes, reports the New York Times. The highly targeted pardons fit a pattern for Biden when it comes to criminal justice reform. A champion of aggressive drug laws earlier in his career, including the 1994 crime law that contributed to mass incarceration, he has more recently embraced leniency for those convicted of minor drug offenses. As president, he has favored taking limited steps that enact change slowly. not the kind of overhauls that some in his party believe are necessary to reverse the impact of harsh prison sentences that have disproportionately harmed minorities. “It’s symbolic to have the White House to start getting behind decriminalization of marijuana in this intentional way,” said Nayna Gupta of the National Immigrant Justice Center. She said 45,000 immigrants were deported for state and federal marijuana possession charges between 2003 and 2018. Most federal marijuana possession cases involved someone found with the drug at a border checkpoint, on federally owned land or at an airport, even if they were flying out of a state that has legalized marijuana use. More than 55 percent of the 7,800 citizens and legal permanent residents convicted of federal marijuana possession from 1992 to 2021 were Black or Hispanic. Most of the prosecutions for the drug have occurred in California, Arizona and Texas. Nearly 150 people were sentenced in the federal prison system for marijuana possession in the 2021 fiscal year, while more than 1,000 offenders were sentenced for trafficking marijuana.

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

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