Biden pardons marijuana offenders, cuts non-violent drug sentences

Biden pardons marijuana offenders, cuts non-violent drug sentences

Biden pardons marijuana offenders, cuts non-violent drug sentences By Reuters

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Published Dec 22, 2023 08:01AM ET
Updated Dec 22, 2023 02:11PM ET

© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden discusses the Biden administration economic policies during a visit to the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., December 20, 2023. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday reduced the prison terms of 11 people serving decades-long sentences for non-violent drug charges and pardoned potentially thousands of others with federal or Washington, D.C. marijuana possession offenses.

Biden said the actions were meant to address disparities in sentencing that have long taken a toll on the Black community, and to expand his commitment to marijuana reform.

“America was founded on the principle of equal justice under law,” Biden said in a statement. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect this core value that makes our communities safer and stronger.”

The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but a fifth of its prisoners. A disproportionate share are people of color, who make up a sizable chunk of Biden’s base of support.

Biden is gearing up for an intense year of campaigning ahead of the 2024 presidential election as his popularity sags, especially among young people.

Some of the people pardoned were serving life sentences, the White House said, including Earlie Deacon Barber of Alabama for cocaine distribution and Deondre Cordell Higgins of Missouri for distributing crack cocaine. Given recent reforms, each would have been eligible for reduced sentences if they were sentenced today.

Some of the long sentences reflect longstanding disparities in sentencing for crack-vs-powder cocaine convictions. Legal experts now say such punishments do not aid public safety and disproportionately impacts Black communities.

Biden’s new marijuana proclamation pardons people who were “committed or were convicted of the offense of simple possession of marijuana, attempted simple possession of marijuana, or use of marijuana,” including for use and possession on certain federal lands.

A White House official said thousands of people with federal and Washington, DC convictions were eligible for the pardons. The administration has started an application process so that those pardoned can get a special certificate if needed for housing or employment applications.

Friday’s action comes in addition to the 75 commutations and three pardons issued in April 2022; six pardons issued in December 2022; and 31 commutations in April 2023, as well as the categorical pardon issued for thousands of people convicted of federal and D.C. simple possession of marijuana in October 2022.

As of January 2022, no offenders sentenced solely for simple possession of marijuana were in federal prisons, the U.S. Sentencing Commission found this year.

Biden pardons marijuana offenders, cuts non-violent drug sentences

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