The Biden administration has taken the first step to ending harsh and discriminatory laws around marijuana. But it’s a far cry from justice for all those impacted.

by Jesse Mechanic, In These Times

Last week, President Joe Biden — a driving force behind the 1994 crime bill which accelerated mass incarceration in America—announced a three-step plan for marijuana reform which began with a pardon for ​all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who committed the offense of simple possession of marijuana.” The pardon is a welcome development for those invested in dismantling the carceral state. But a closer look at the limits of the plan’s impact reveals that much more still must be done to achieve justice around the issue of marijuana laws.

A flag flies for legalized marijuana

According to the White House there isn’t currently anyone in federal prison for simple marijuana possession, so the plan will primarily involve expunging records rather than releasing those serving sentences. And while the pardon will reportedly benefit an estimated 6,500 people, nearly 400,000 people are currently locked up for drug offenses, and hundreds of thousands of others have been released with damaging criminal records impacting their day-to-day lives. The pardon does not apply to those convicted of selling marijuana, for example — a much larger group — even though marijuana is now a legal, multi-billion dollar business operating in 19 states with five more on the ballot in 2022. The pardon also explicitly states that it ​does not apply to individuals who were non-citizens not lawfully present in the United States at the time of their offense.”

Yet despite the limits of the plan’s reach, advocacy groups still largely cheered the news.

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