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Biden overhauls U.S. policy on marijuana, pardons prior federal offenses

Coronavirus Oct 07, 2022 07:40PM ET
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© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden listens to a guest doctor speak during a meeting of the Reproductive Healthcare Access Task Force in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
 
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By Jeff Mason and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden took steps to overhaul U.S. policy on marijuana on Thursday by pardoning thousands of people with federal offenses for simple marijuana possession and initiating a review of how the drug is classified.

Biden said thousands of people with prior federal convictions could be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities and his executive action would relieve such "collateral" consequences.

Nearly 40 U.S. states have legalized marijuana use in some form, but it remains completely illegal in some states and at the federal level. Reclassification would be a first step toward wider legalization, a move backed by a majority of Americans, and usher in sweeping changes for companies and law enforcement and impact millions.

The president's decision fulfills a campaign promise and is likely to please members in his left-leaning political base ahead of the November midterm elections in which the president's fellow Democrats are defending control of the House of Representatives and Senate.

"Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It's time that we right these wrongs," Biden said.

He urged state governors to follow suit.

"Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either," Biden said.

A senior administration official said more than 6500 people with prior federal convictions could be affected by the pardons.

Shares of cannabis growers and sellers surged following Biden's comments, with Tilray (NASDAQ:TLRY) Brands and Canopy Growth (NASDAQ:CGC) both jumping more than 20%.

Supporters welcomed the move and its impact on racial imbalances in the U.S. justice system.

"The United States will never justly legalize marijuana until it reckons with the outdated policies that equated thousands of young Black men with hardened drug pushers," said Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network civil rights group.

"They were thrown behind bars for years on end for simple possession, a non-violent offense, for a substance that red states and blue states are now legalizing at a furious clip."

Some Republicans, who U.S. voters prefer over Democrats for addressing crime-related policies, criticized it.

"In the midst of a crime wave and on the brink of a recession, Joe Biden is giving blanket pardons to drug offenders— many of whom pled down from more serious charges," Republican Senator Tom Cotton said on Twitter. "This is a desperate attempt to distract from failed leadership."

BIG CHANGES AHEAD

The results of a classification review could have wide ramifications. At present, the drug falls under the same classification as heroin and LSD and is in a higher classification than fentanyl and methamphetamine, the president said.

If marijuana classification were to ease at the federal level, that could allow major stock exchanges to list businesses that are in the cannabis trade, and potentially allow foreign companies to begin selling their products in the United States.

While many states have legalized the medical or recreational use of cannabis, its illegal status under U.S. federal law has forced most major banks to deny their services to cannabis-related businesses.

The issue has forced U.S. marijuana companies to trade their shares over the counter or by listing in Canada, with the Nasdaq and New York Stock Exchange prohibited from listing them.

The president's action drew praise from some members of Congress and from the industry.

“The Progressive Caucus applauds this action by President Biden today to advance criminal and racial justice," said Representative Pramila Jayapal, who chairs a group of left-leaning lawmakers, in a statement.

"This represents a major step in righting the wrongs of the past and amending policies that have negatively impacted so many,” said Khari Edwards, head of corporate social responsibility at Ayr Wellness Inc, one of the top U.S. cannabis retailers.

Biden said he had directed Attorney General Merrick Garland to develop an "administrative process" to issue certificates of pardon to those who are eligible.

“The Justice Department will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted of that offense," the department said in a statement.

Biden said certain rules needed to stay in place even as regulations around the country loosened.

"Finally, even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place," Biden said.

The global cannabis industry is forecast to hit $55 billion in sales by 2026, with the U.S. market growing to $40 billion by then, up from $25 billion last year, according to cannabis focused research firm BDSA’s September projections.

Industry experts believe U.S. federal reforms could push those figures much higher.

Biden overhauls U.S. policy on marijuana, pardons prior federal offenses
 

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Comments (29)
Forex Harbingers
ForexHarbingers Oct 11, 2022 12:58PM ET
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Buy those votes!
David Pires
David Pires Oct 09, 2022 10:05AM ET
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Desperation for mid terms. And notice we haven’t lifted a finger to solve the Opioid crisis which killed over a hundred thousand already this year. Great advisors youve got there joe
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Oct 09, 2022 10:05AM ET
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didn't President Orange promised to solve the opioid crisis?  although maybe he said he will get to that right after he release his new healthcare plan?
Casador Del Oso
Casador Del Oso Oct 08, 2022 3:37PM ET
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Biden's campaign promise in 2019 was to move M to Schedule 2, which makes it more illegal than today. It can only be sold with a prescription by a pharmacist only with FDA approval. That means no more recreational, no more dispensaries, no more mail order gummy bears, no more home growing. Big money for Joe's friends at the big drug companies.
DB
DB Oct 07, 2022 11:57PM ET
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The only people in federal penitentiary for "Federal Offenses" for simple Marijuana possession is simply an outright media lie. The only people I. federal prison for this drug have felony charges also for racketeering, illegal weapons money laundering, or distribution. this writer and their editor are liars perpetuating an urban myth for political purposes.
Stephen Fa
Stephen Fa Oct 07, 2022 11:57PM ET
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Yep, fake news Reuters at it again spinning liberal echo chamber for Democrats.
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Oct 07, 2022 11:57PM ET
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Stephen Fa  removing fed government regulations is now liberal echo chamber?  interesting logic
Randy Walekr
Randy Walekr Oct 07, 2022 8:45PM ET
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Biden just got my vote… Even though I despise 99% of his other policies…
Stephen Fa
Stephen Fa Oct 07, 2022 8:45PM ET
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It's only federal convictions which are rare except for crimes in DC or on federal government property.
Gary Piccone
Gary Piccone Oct 07, 2022 8:04PM ET
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He forgot(Imagine that) to include fentanyl, cocaine, crack, and meth in his pardon
Robert Copeland
Robert Copeland Oct 07, 2022 12:54PM ET
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Tom Cotton cry's about everything. He should be happy with this, as the DOJ will busy and not picking on Trump.
First Last
First Last Oct 07, 2022 12:54PM ET
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"But other Republicans declined to comment when pressed about the issue [of pardoning people convicted in the storming of the Capitol ] on Monday, including Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.)." --  www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-capitol-riot-pardon-pledge-republican-reaction_n_61f899cbe4b0061af2631e56
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Oct 07, 2022 12:54PM ET
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"the DOJ will busy and not picking on Trump."  -- by picking on Trump you mean enforcing the law the orange messiah signed himself?
First Last
First Last Oct 07, 2022 10:40AM ET
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Biden "pardoning thousands of people with federal offenses for simple marijuana possession".  Trump pardoned ***offenders.
Show previous replies (1)
First Last
First Last Oct 07, 2022 10:40AM ET
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Maximus Maximus   Joe hasn't obstructed justice w/ regard to Hunter, and probably Joe's natural inclinations won't allow him to pardon even Hunter if Hunter needs it.
Stephen Fa
Stephen Fa Oct 07, 2022 10:40AM ET
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The DC establishment won't pursue obstruction charges on old Joe.
Maximus Maximus
Maximus Maximus Oct 07, 2022 10:40AM ET
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the orange blimp, a well known s**offender himself, just followed his natural inclinations and let others like him off the hook too
First Last
First Last Oct 07, 2022 10:40AM ET
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Stephen Fa   Trump was "the DC establishment" and he didn't pursue charges despite wanting to..  Even he realized he didn't have a case and would be laughed out of court, again.
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Oct 07, 2022 10:40AM ET
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First Last  it's always funny to see people still think a NY property billionaire and hollywood entertainer who became US president for 4 years is not part of the establishment
Potu Pwa
Potu Pwa Oct 07, 2022 6:16AM ET
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2750/2890US
Potu Pwa
Potu Pwa Oct 07, 2022 6:16AM ET
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2750/2890
 
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