Presidential Proclamation Expands Eligibility for Marijuana Pardons

December 29, 2023

The President has issued a directive to increase the number of marijuana convictions eligible for federal pardons. According to the President, more offenses for marijuana use and simple possession would become eligible. These pardons would include records under federal and DC laws.

The President acknowledged how these criminal records imposed unnecessary barriers. Such barriers prevented educational, employment, and housing opportunities for many individuals with marijuana use or simple possession convictions. He also noted the disruption to many lives over the failed approach to marijuana, claiming it is time to “right these wrongs.”

The President had previously issued a pardon in October of 2022. In March 2023, the Department of Justice opened an online portal for pardons. It allowed eligible individuals to apply for a certificate. According to the US Sentencing Commission, almost 7,000 individuals have federal marijuana-related convictions that the directive could pardon. How many more people might be eligible to have their federal convictions pardoned under the new directive is unknown. 

In addition to increasing those individuals eligible for pardons, the President asked state officials to take action. This request is to ensure that people are not in a local or state jail solely for using or possessing marijuana. He explained that he was urging governors to follow his example. Like his pardoning offenses on the federal level, he hoped governors would do so on the state level. The President also applauded those who have already done so.

Although this new directive will help more individuals obtain pardons for marijuana-related offenses, it may affect many. Most convictions or arrests are at the state level, which will not receive the President’s pardon. However, some states have passed legislation to expunge these convictions. Some local officials also issued pardons or expungements for marijuana-related offenses.

In October 2022, the President included a directive for the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General. They had to begin the administrative process to review how federal law schedules marijuana. In August 2023, This decision led to the Department of Health and Human Services recommending that cannabis fall under Schedule III instead of Schedule I. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has not yet acted on this recommendation.

Some states already have laws limiting how employers can consider marijuana convictions during the hiring process. However, employers in states that do not have these laws can still practice similar processes. For example, they can determine whether marijuana convictions are relevant to open positions. One way to begin second-chance hiring is by working with a trusted background screening company. The right provider will use their experience to deliver accurate, timely, and relevant information for informed hiring.

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