How Does the President’s Pardon of Marijuana Convictions Work?

SQ Attorneys

Recently, President Joe Biden took a major step to overhaul U.S. marijuana policy acting on a campaign promise he made during the elections. President Biden pardoned all people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law between 1992 and 2021, a move that affects at least 6,500 men and women plus several thousand more in the District of Columbia. Second, he said that his administration will review whether marijuana should be reclassified so that it is not in the same Schedule 1 drug category as heroin and LSD.

While many states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana, it remains illegal at the federal level. Full national legalization or decriminalization of pot would require action by Congress — and Biden stops short of saying he favors anything more than reclassifying marijuana possession to a lesser offense. Nevertheless, this executive action moves the federal government in the direction of the states that have legalized pot and eliminated or reduced criminal punishments for simple possession.

Criminal records for marijuana possession have created “needless barriers” to employment, housing, and educational opportunities, Biden said. But pardons don’t really wipe the slate clean for people with criminal marijuana possession convictions on their records.

According to the Justice Department however, a pardon does help by removing “legal disabilities” caused by a conviction, and “should lessen to some extent the stigma” that many people with convictions on their records face. DOJ states that pardon recipients will still be required to disclose prior convictions on any form that requires such information. However, they may also disclose that they received pardons. Erasing a criminal record requires expungement a court-ordered process.

DOJ says that those seeking expungement of a federal marijuana possession offense should contact the federal district court where they were convicted. States have varying procedures for those seeking expungements. If you are trying to expunge a state-level conviction, DOJ suggests contacting the offices of the governor or attorney general of your state for assistance.

It’s important to point out that the pardons mostly affect people who were once in prison on federal pot-possession charges. Only a handful of people currently behind bars will win their freedom. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, just 149 people were in federal prisons for simple possession of marijuana in 2021, a decrease of more than 2,000 in 2015.

Although numbers are hard to come by, far more are serving time for possession in state prisons, which are not affected by the pardons. Biden is encouraging governors in those states to follow in issuing pardons. Biden’s pardons will be issued through an administrative process overseen by the Justice Department. Those people eligible for the pardons will receive a certificate that they’ve been forgiven for that offense.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer. SQ Attorneys can be reached at (425) 359-3791 and/or (206) 441-0900.

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