The Pulse

Biden Administration launches pardon app for low-level marijuana convictions

By: - March 15, 2023 5:45 am
Marijuana grows in Richmond, VA at a state licensed medical processor and dispensary. (Scott Elmquist/Style Weekly via the Virginia Mercury)

The Biden Administration has opened pardon applications for people convicted of low-level federal marijuana possession.

President Joe Biden announced in October that he would issue pardons for people convicted of simple possession of marijuana, affecting about 6,500 people convicted of the federal crime between 1992 and 2021.

A person can be charged with simple possession, a federal misdemeanor, if they have up to four ounces on them, resulting in a fine of at least $1,000 and could include prison time, although no one is currently serving time in federal prison solely for marijuana possession. Biden’s efforts were a modest attempt to help people convicted of a low-level crime to move on with their lives and reduce the stigma and collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.

“A pardon is an expression of the President’s forgiveness. It does not signify innocence or expunge the conviction. But it may remove civil disabilities — such as restrictions on the right to vote, to hold office, or to sit on a jury — that are imposed because of the pardoned conviction. It may also be helpful in obtaining licenses, bonding, or employment,” the website states.

You can qualify for the pardon if you:

  • were charged with or convicted of simple marijuana possession by a federal or D.C. Superior court on or before Oct. 6, 2022
  • were a U.S. citizen or were lawfully present in the country at the time of the crime
  • were a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident on Oct. 6, 2022

Click here to access the portal to apply for a pardon.

The pardons will only be available for people convicted in federal court. It does not impact those convicted in North Carolina courts of the same charge, though Gov. Roy Cooper has said his lawyers were looking at convictions for simple marijuana possession to determine whether there’s anything the executive branch can do — like issue a pardon — to follow the president’s lead.

Data presented to the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice showed that in 2019 there were 31,287 charges of possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana, the lowest-level misdemeanor in the state that could result in a fine of up to $200 but no jail time. Of those, 31,000 charges, 8,520 resulted in convictions. More than 60% of those convicted of the crime were not white.

That same year, there were 3,422 charges for possession of more than a half-ounce but less than 1.5 ounces of marijuana, punishable by up to 45 days imprisonment and a $200 fine. Of those, 1,909 cases resulted in convictions; 70% of those convicted were not white.

In their report issued a month later, the task force recommended legislators decriminalize marijuana possession of up to 1.5 ounces. Legislators did not act on this recommendation.

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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.