The Biden Administration announced last week that it’s launching a system that will allow individuals pardoned for federal cannabis possession convictions in 2022 to obtain written documentation of the pardon. In a March 3 statement, the Department of Justice wrote that a new application is available to request written documentation of the pardons, which were issued en masse by President Joseph Biden on October 6, 2022. The announcement was hailed as a step forward by advocates for cannabis policy reform, including Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
“This is another small, but critical step with the Biden Administration coming to terms with the new cannabis realities, and taking another step in the right direction,” Blumenauer said in a statement on Friday.
While campaigning for office before the 2020 elections, Biden pledged to end incarceration for federal cannabis possession convictions. The president acted on the promise late last year, announcing that he was issuing an executive order to pardon all convictions for simple marijuana possession prosecuted under federal law or Washington, D.C.’s municipal code. In a statement, the president said the move would help address the collateral damage of a federal drug conviction.
“As I often said during my campaign for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in a statement from the White House on October 6, 2022. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
When he announced the federal pardons in October, Biden called on governors to take similar action at the state level. The president also directed the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to review the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. According to the statute, the Schedule 1 classification is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high propensity for abuse.
Application Available Online
The new application form for documentation of a federal cannabis pardon requests information about the qualifying offense and demographic data about the applicant. The application can be completed online, or a hard copy can be mailed to the Justice Department, which has “committed to carefully and expeditiously reviewing the applications and issuing certificates to those pardoned under the proclamation.”
“Those who were pardoned on Oct. 6, 2022, are eligible for a certificate of pardon,” the Department of Justice wrote in a statement on March 3. “Consistent with the proclamation, to be eligible for a certificate, an applicant must have been charged or convicted of simple possession of marijuana in either a federal court or D.C. Superior Court, and the applicant must have been lawfully within the United States at the time of the offense. Similarly, an individual must have been a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident on Oct. 6, 2022.”
Natalie Papillion, chief operating officer at the cannabis justice group Last Prisoner Project, said the new pardon documentation process will ease the burden of a federal cannabis conviction. But she also noted that completing the application isn’t required to receive a pardon under the president’s executive order.
“We’re really heartened to learn that the Department of Justice has officially launched the federal cannabis pardon certification process. Having physical proof of their pardons will undoubtedly help pardon recipients as they navigate a world that’s unduly hostile to those with cannabis offenses on their criminal records,” Papillon says. “That said, it would be irresponsible not to clear up a major misconception about these pardons. President Biden’s marijuana pardons were self-effectuating, meaning eligible individuals received them on October 6, 2022—the date of President Biden’s proclamation. This recently launched application process is aimed at helping pardon recipients receive physical proof of their pardon, which may prove helpful when recipients apply for jobs, housing, educational opportunities, etc.”
Between 6,000 and 20,000 Americans will be able to apply for written proof that their federal convictions have been pardoned, according to information from the US Sentencing Commission and the Office of the Pardon Attorney cited by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Biden’s pardons mark the first time that an American president has ever used the power of the executive to provide legal relief to the cannabis community, according to a statement from the cannabis policy reform group.