US president Joe Biden is issuing an executive order that will pardon everyone convicted of marijuana possession under federal law.
The move will only affect a relatively small number of marijuana convictions since most occur at the state level, but also covers thousands convicted of the crime in the District of Columbia.
US officials estimate there are “6,500 people with prior federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana” that Biden will pardon.
“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” he said. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”
According to the White House, no one is currently in federal prison solely for “simple possession” of the drug, but the pardon could help thousands overcome obstacles related to renting a home or finding a job.
“Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities,” he continued, adding that racial minorities were statistically far more likely to be jailed for cannabis.
“There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities as a result,” he said. “My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”
The pardon does not cover convictions for possession of other drugs, nor charges relating to producing or possessing marijuana with an intent to distribute. Biden is also not pardoning non-citizens who were in the U.S. without legal status at the time of their arrest.
He is also directing the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services to review how cannabis is classified under federal law.
“We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl,” said Biden. “It makes no sense.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is working to devise a process for those covered by Biden’s pardon to receive a certificate of pardon, which they can show to potential employers and others as needed.
Recreational marijuana is already legal in 19 states and Washington DC. Medical use is legal in 37 states and three US territories.