Biden Pardons Federal and DC Marijuana Users

A small but positive step.

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

The White House: “A Proclamation on Granting Pardon for the Offense of Simple Possession of Marijuana, Attempted Simple Possession of Marijuana, or Use of Marijuana

In Proclamation 10467 of October 6, 2022 (Granting Pardon for the Offense of Simple Possession of Marijuana), I exercised my authority under the Constitution to pardon individuals who committed or were convicted of the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and section 48–904.01(d)(1) of the Code of the District of Columbia (D.C. Code).  As I have said before, convictions for simple possession of marijuana have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.  Through this proclamation, consistent with the grant of Proclamation 10467, I am pardoning additional individuals who may continue to experience the unnecessary collateral consequences of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana.  Therefore, acting pursuant to the grant of authority in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution of the United States, I, Joseph R. Biden Jr., do hereby grant a full, complete, and unconditional pardon to all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who, on or before the date of this proclamation, committed or were convicted of the offense of simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana, regardless of whether they have been charged with or prosecuted for these offenses on or before the date of this proclamation, in violation of:

(1)  section 844 of title 21, United States Code, section 846 of title 21, United States Code, and previous provisions in the United States Code that prohibited simple possession of marijuana or attempted simple possession of marijuana; 

(2)  section 48-904.01(d)(1) of the D.C. Code and previous provisions in the D.C. Code that prohibited simple possession of marijuana;

(3)  section 48-904.09 of the D.C. Code and previous provisions in the D.C. Code that prohibited attempted simple possession of marijuana; and

(4)  provisions in the Code of Federal Regulations, including as enforced under the United States Code, that prohibit only the simple possession or use of marijuana on Federal properties or installations, or in other locales, as currently or previously codified, including but not limited to 25 C.F.R. 11.452(a); 32 C.F.R. 1903.12(b)(2); 36 C.F.R. 2.35(b)(2); 36 C.F.R. 1002.35(b)(2); 36 C.F.R. 1280.16(a)(1); 36 C.F.R. 702.6(b); 41 C.F.R. 102-74.400(a); 43 C.F.R. 8365.1-4(b)(2); and 50 C.F.R. 27.82(b)(2).

     My intent by this proclamation is to pardon only the offenses of simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana in violation of the Federal and D.C. laws set forth in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this proclamation, as well as the provisions in the Code of Federal Regulations consistent with paragraph (4) of this proclamation, and not any other offenses involving other controlled substances or activity beyond simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana, such as possession of marijuana with intent to distribute or driving offenses committed while under the influence of marijuana.  This pardon does not apply to individuals who were non-citizens not lawfully present in the United States at the time of their offense.

I was unable to quickly determine how many people have been convicted under the Federal statute for simple possession of marijuana; I would guess the number is small. I would guess that the number convicted under DC law is higher.

Regardless, this seems like an unalloyed good. It’s unconscionable that people continue to face impediments to employment and the like for doing something that’s now perfectly legal in much of the country, including DC.*

Rather obviously, the vast number of Americans convicted under anti-marijuana laws have been at the state and local level and the President lacks the power to pardon them. NPR notes that and reports,

The pardon Biden issued does not apply to state convictions. In a statement, the president encouraged governors to take action on marijuana laws in their own states.

“Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” Biden said.

Vice President Kamala Harris also weighed in.

“As I have declared many times before, no one should be in prison simply for smoking weed,” she said in a statement. “That is why we continue to call on Governors to join us in this long-overdue work.”

Why we’re continuing to pretend Harris’ is some kind of co-president escapes me. As does her use of “weed” in an official statement.

NPR adds:

In addition to the proclamation, Biden also granted clemency to 11 individuals who he says are serving “disproportionately long” sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

Biden said that with current reforms, these individuals would have been eligible for much shorter sentences had they been charged today.

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” Biden said in a statement.

In April, Biden commuted the sentences of 31 others who were also convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.

Rolling Stone notes that Biden’s position on the issue has evolved:

Biden’s new approach to weed is a significant shift from his previous stances.

Back in 2021, several staffers were asked to resign or were suspended for past marijuana usage. And in 2010, while serving as Barack Obama’s Vice President, Biden called weed a “gateway drug,” adding that “legalization is a mistake” in an interview with ABC News.

In the late Eighties, Biden said he “rejected” the idea of the legalization of recreational drugs. “Is it proper and legitimate for a government to take an action which we know expressly will lead to the mental and physical demise of an individual?” Biden asked at the time, per Mother Jones. “I say no.”

First, politicians evolving their positions as they gain more knowledge and experience should be lauded, not viewed as being inconsistent or hypocritical. Second, as I noted at the time, Biden wasn’t firing staffers for simple marijuana use but rather for irregularities that turned up in the routine security clearance process. Third, as the linked story itself points out, Biden likely wasn’t talking about marijuana but rather harder drugs. And this was a Q&A at a college speech, not a major policy address.


*While I support legalization, I do lament the side effect that every major city’s downtown now reeks of marijuana smoke.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just nutha says:

    If the arrest continues to show up on one’s background check, the pardon means nothing. Just sayin’

  2. Tony W says:

    @just nutha: A huge number of background checks are related to workers who will might access to sensitive U.S. government information, and background checks are required for some government vendors. Which brings up another point: I wonder if TS/SCI/Polygraph testers will stop asking candidates about marijuana usage going forward?

  3. mattbernius says:

    @just nutha:
    Completely agree. There is Federal Clean Slate legislation being worked on. That’s not my area any more so I can’t say how is doing.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: Both H.R.2983 – Fresh Start Act of 2023 and H.R.2930 – Clean Slate Act of 2023 were referred to the House Judiciary Committee on 27 April. Not shockingly, that’s as far as they’ve gotten.

  5. JKB says:

    Andrew Sullivan rejoices. He’s the only person I’ve seen in the news for simple marijuana possession when he got busted on a federal beach in MA.

    Three other defendants charged with the same offense had to appear before Collings the same day as Sullivan, the judge noted. But Sullivan’s case was the only one prosecutors did not pursue, out of concern that the $125 fine carried by the relatively minor offense could derail his US immigration application.

  6. mattbernius says:

    That sounds like typical prosecutorial discretion and trying to balance out all the implications to find a just punishment or avoid an over-punishment.

  7. JKB says:


    That was the argument, but as was noted, it was special treatment, not a resource allocation issue. In any case, this is the type of thing pardoned, those without the clout to get prosecutorial discretion. As we see, three others appearing before the judge did get federal simple possession drug convictions, even though the penalty was apparently only a fine.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    Tens of thousands of Americans have lost jobs, had their families destroyed, or done time thanks to the imbecilic war on marijuana. We’ve known for decades that this was an injustice, we’ve known for decades that it was doing terrible damage, we’ve known all along that the hammer fell hardest on minorities. And yet, no apology from the prosecutors, judges, or legislators (or voters) who perpetrated this crime against the American people.

    This ranks with Manzanar or Tuskegee or the Alien Sedition Act as a black mark on American justice.

  9. mattbernius says:

    I really don’t get the point you are making.

    Is it that the system is unfair? Completely agree.

    It’s it that we as a culture are way too focused on criminal records? Completely agree as well.

    If it’s that prosecutorial discretion is bad… There I have to disagree. I think losing immigration status over simple possession would be too harsh a punishment. Disparate impact has always been a consideration in discretion (along with many other factors).

    If the issue was the fine and not the conviction itself, well that’s a great argument for giving judges more discretion in sentencing (which the government has been moving too). Though I actually think it’s probably the conviction that was the issue here.

    Knowing prosecutors, given that he didn’t have a record (or at least I assume he didn’t) and that this could lead to deportation, this is the type of discretion that I think you would see most prosecutors exercising under these circumstances. Is it fair to the people who were convicted? In a pure sense, no. However, is deporting Sullivan fair for misdemeanor possession (when everyone else gets a slight fine)? I don’t think so either. These are the types of things that play out everyday in courts.

    So I’d love to get a better sense of your point here.

  10. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    Both H.R.2983 – Fresh Start Act of 2023 and H.R.2930 – Clean Slate Act of 2023 were referred to the House Judiciary Committee on 27 April. Not shockingly, that’s as far as they’ve gotten.

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. Sadly we have moved out of the criminal justice reform cycle and are currently back in the tough on crime cycle. That combined with the overall dysfunction of the House and that is currently controlled by Republicans means we probably won’t see any movement on these (even though they involve people who have successfully completed all aspects of their sentences) until people actually start to believe crime is going down again.

    This is sadly always a long game.

  11. Matt says:

    Seeing all the Hunter Biden stuff I can understand why Biden thought Marijuana was the Devil’s lettuce and all that.

    Good to see that someone has gotten Biden to open his eyes to reality. I’ve been saying for a while now in private that if Biden wants to help motivate the younger people (30 and under) to show up and vote that Marijuana legalization would do it. Obviously abortion is already motivating a segment of that age group.

  12. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Tony W:

    Don’t know about your part of ‘merika, but where cracker & luddite live, background searches are part of civilian job searches AND nearly all applications for rental housing (and real estate sales in areas with HOAs). Any notation of an arrest will usually result in withdrawal of employment offer, and nope, you can’t live here, nope siree Bob. Go get under a bridge, you scum!

  13. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    My first rejected college thesis was on the benefits of legalization and taxation of all “illegal” drugs. Nixon’s war on drugs was raging at the time, and people in some parts of the country got life sentences for ANY amount of demon weed. Now there’s a huge emporium that shares a parking lot with the police station.

    Based on personal knowledge, I’m guessing that at least a dozen people doing remods in Seattle since 1978 have been able to find their work on the shrink wrapped bundles of c-notes in the inside walls.

  14. Richard Gardner says:

    I do wonder if Canada will now allow these folks to visit. Or cross Canada to get to Alaska.