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Biden Pardons All Federal Offenses of Marijuana Possession

Thousands of people previously convicted are being denied employment and housing, Biden said.

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Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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President Joe Biden says his pardon will affect thousands of people.

Dana Ullman/Bloomberg via Getty Images

US President Joe Biden on Thursday pardoned all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession.

 "While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates," Biden said in a statement.

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin and LSD, according to the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. States, however, have their own laws regarding marijuana, and many have made it legal for recreational or medicinal use or are moving in that direction.

See also: Marijuana Laws by State: Is Pot Legal in Your State?

This means marijuana users in states where it is legalized could still be breaking federal law. In 2013, President Barack Obama's administration issued the Cole Memorandum, which calls on federal authorities to defer to state authorities where jurisdictions have legalized marijuana, but this guidance was rescinded in 2018 under President Donald Trump.

Marijuana-related convictions have had lingering effects for many Americans.

"There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden," Biden tweeted Thursday afternoon. 

The president is also calling on governors across the nation to pardon state offenses for simple marijuana possession and is asking for a review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.

Currently before the Senate is the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which would end the federal ban.