Warren presses Biden on pardons for nonviolent cannabis convictions

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) arrives to the Senate Chamber for a series of judicial nomination votes on Tuesday, October 26, 2021.
Greg Nash

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and two other Democratic senators sent a letter on Tuesday to President Biden pressing him to make good on campaign promises and pardon federal nonviolent cannabis convictions. 

“After over a century of failed and racist cannabis policies, we write to urge a change of course: we request that you use your executive authority to pardon all individuals convicted of non-violent cannabis offenses, whether formerly or currently incarcerated,” Warren said in the letter co-signed by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Democrats have been pushing Biden since the beginning of his presidency to reform cannabis laws, which have disproportionately affected communities of color.

The letter cites the Democratic primary debate in November 2019, during which Biden laid out his views on marijuana reform.

“Number one, I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period,” Biden said at the time. “And I think everyone — anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged, be completely zeroed out.”

The senators wrote that marijuana laws must be overhauled but that the president can also act immediately on his own. 

“You can and should issue a blanket pardon for all non-violent federal cannabis offenses, fulfilling your promises to the American people and transforming the lives of tens of thousands Americans,” they wrote. 

Most importantly, such a pardon—combined with your leadership on an accessible expungement process to formally clear the criminal records of those affected—would mark the beginning of a reversal of decades of ineffective and discriminatory cannabis policies, allowing Americans to return to their communities, find housing and jobs, and rebuild their lives without the burdens of an unjustly imposed criminal record,” the senators added in the letter.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced a bill in the Senate in July in a push to legalize marijuana at the federal level. 

“There is an urgency to this because there are people all over our country seeing their lives destroyed. They’re hurt,” Booker said at the time.

Twenty-seven states have already decriminalized possession of some amounts of marijuana, with 36 states legalizing it for medicinal purposes. 

Tags cannabis bill Charles Schumer Cory Booker Ed Markey Edward Markey Elizabeth Warren Jeff Merkley Joe Biden Ron Wyden

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