In a recent interview with Gray DC in South Carolina, Vice President Kamala Harris lauded the administration's efforts to pardon individuals for federal marijuana possession offenses, citing it as a tangible example of delivering for Americans, especially young and Black voters who play a crucial role in President Joe Biden's reelection aspirations.
Addressing the significance of the Black youth vote for the Biden-Harris campaign, Harris emphasized the importance of connecting with this demographic. She singled out cannabis clemency as an action that resonates uniquely, stating, “Another issue [is] what we have done to pardon tens of thousands of people for simple marijuana possession under federal law—because, frankly, nobody should have to go to jail for smoking weed.”
Harris stressed that these actions align with the concerns of young people, Black voters, and young Black voters, pointing to additional initiatives such as expanding high-speed internet access and funding historically Black colleges and universities. She acknowledged there is more work to be done in these areas.
While Harris mentioned “tens of thousands” being pardoned under President Biden's clemency proclamations, the Justice Department estimates approximately 13,000 individuals have received relief through executive action. However, there has been criticism of inflated rhetoric surrounding the pardons, with Biden accused of exaggerating their impact.
Advocates have called on the administration to do more, reminding them of Biden's campaign pledge to decriminalize marijuana. Notably, some individuals remain in federal prison for nonviolent marijuana offenses.
As the Justice Department seeks White House approval to update its data collection process for marijuana pardon certificates, the relief is automatic for eligible individuals. The department has already started issuing certifications, allowing recipients to have their pardon formally documented if desired.
Despite Biden's campaign promises on marijuana decriminalization and Harris's sponsorship of federal marijuana legalization legislation, the pardons and an administrative directive on cannabis scheduling represent the extent of the administration's marijuana reform actions to date.
Under the directive, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. The final decision now rests with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Biden, seemingly aware of the political popularity of marijuana reform, has repeatedly highlighted the mass cannabis pardon and scheduling review. A recent poll indicates a potential significant boost in the president's favorability, especially among young voters aged 18-25, if the scheduling directive results in reclassification under federal law. The poll showed a net 11-point increase in voters' impression of the president after learning about the potential implications of the rescheduling review.
This story was originally covered by Marijuana Moment.