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Biden’s marijuana pardon program grows, includes Arkansas citizens – The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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President Joe Biden granted pardons to thousands of individuals who were convicted of marijuana use and possession on federal lands and in the District of Columbia, according to the White House. The decision was made in an effort to address racial disparities in the justice system.

The pardons cover a range of federal lands including national parks, wildlife refuges, and even the CIA. However, they only apply to U.S. citizens and do not include charges related to distributing marijuana or driving while under its influence. Typically, first-time offenders for possession serve a year in jail and receive a $1,000 fine.

This action builds upon a similar round of pardons issued just before the 2022 midterm elections, which pardoned thousands of individuals convicted of simple possession on federal lands. The latest action broadens the scope of criminal offenses covered by the pardon. Additionally, Biden is granting clemency to 11 individuals serving what the White House described as “disproportionately long” sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

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The pardon also specifically includes individuals with crack cocaine convictions, as those with powder cocaine offenses tend to receive shorter punishments. The official noted that the sentencing disparity has had a disproportionate impact on Black Americans.

President Biden stated that these actions would help make the “promise of equal justice a reality.” He emphasized that criminal records for marijuana use and possession have placed unnecessary barriers on employment, housing, and education opportunities, and that it was time to rectify these wrongs.

It is important to note that no one was released from prison as a result of the previous round of pardons, but they aimed to help individuals overcome obstacles in finding housing or employment. Similarly, federal prisoners are not eligible for release due to Friday’s pardon.

However, the order expands the grounds on which pardons are issued. In the previous round, individuals were pardoned for simple possession under only one criminal statute. The latest pardons also cover several other criminal statutes, including attempted simple possession.

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Biden’s proclamation only applies to marijuana, which has been decriminalized or legalized in many states but remains a controlled substance under federal law. The administration is currently reviewing the possibility of reclassifying the drug to a less tightly regulated category.

It’s important to note that the pardon does not apply to individuals who were in the U.S. unlawfully at the time of their offense.

While the pardons effectively clear individuals’ records, they will need to submit applications to the Justice Department’s pardon attorney office to receive certificates of pardon for housing and employment purposes.

President Biden also urged governors and local leaders to take similar steps to expunge marijuana convictions, stating that no one should be in prison solely due to use or possession of marijuana.

This move comes as much of Biden’s criminal justice agenda remains stalled, despite being a key feature of his 2020 presidential campaign. As a candidate, Biden promised to use the clemency powers of the presidency for nonviolent crimes, but some advocates argue that he has used those powers sparingly.

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In addition to the marijuana pardons, Biden issued full pardons a year ago to six individuals with drug-related charges. Earlier this week, the White House released a database intended to track federal law enforcement officer misconduct, fulfilling a promise made by Biden to promote police accountability among federal agencies.

The information for this article was contributed by Zeke Miller of The Associated Press and Akayla Gardner of Bloomberg News (TNS).

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