As I often said during my campaign for president, no one should be incarcerated simply for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possession of marijuana has changed too many lives and imprisoned people for behavior that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for possession of marijuana have also created unnecessary barriers to employment, housing and educational opportunities. And while white and black people use marijuana at similar rates, black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.
Today I’m announcing three steps I’m taking to end this failed approach.
First, I am announcing the pardon of all prior federal felonies for simple possession of marijuana. I directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for issuing clemency certificates to eligible individuals. There are thousands of people who have prior federal convictions for possession of marijuana, and as a result they may be denied employment, housing or educational opportunities. My action will help eliminate the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.
Second, I urge all governors to do the same regarding state offenses. Just as no one should be in federal prison simply for possessing marijuana, no one should be in local jail or state prison for that reason.
Third, I am asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate an administrative process to expeditiously review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a classification intended for the most dangerous substances. This is the same schedule as heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine—the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic.
Finally, even as federal and state marijuana regulation changes, important restrictions on commerce, marketing, and underage sales should remain in place.
Too many lives have been cut short by our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time to right these wrongs.