On Jan. 16, President Joe Biden spoke at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast event in Washington D.C., which was hosted by the National Action Network. In his speech, he briefly included a mention of consumers in prison for cannabis convictions. “And one other thing about equal justice. I’m keeping my promise,” he said in his speech. “No one—I’ll say it again—no one should be in federal prison for the mere possession of marijuana. No one.”
“In addition to that, they should be released from prison and completely pardoned and their entire record expunged so that if they have to ask, ‘Have you ever been [convicted]?’ You can honestly say, ‘No.’”
During his speech, he also mentioned his efforts to help release Brittney Griner, the all-star WNBA athlete who was detained and sentenced in Russia for possessing a small amount of cannabis oil. “And we brought Brittney Griner home just in time for Christmas. And we have more to bring home as well,” he said briefly.
Biden appears committed to his promise to prevent citizens from being convicted and sent to federal prison for cannabis crimes, especially since his initial announcement in October 2022. Previously, Biden signed an infrastructure bill in November 2021, which included improvements for cannabis studies. In December 2022, he signed a bill called the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act which “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) voted to propose an amendment that would redefine simple cannabis possession in order to help guide judges preceding over cannabis possession cases. The USSC also released a report on Jan. 10 which analyzes data on cannabis possession sentences. During Fiscal Year 2021, 4,405 people received extra points on their criminal history record because of a cannabis possession conviction, and 1,765 entered a “higher criminal history category” because of that conviction. The report also found a decline in the number of people convicted for federal simple possession, from 2,172 in Fiscal Year 2014 to just 145 in Fiscal Year 2021.
The USSC initially estimated in an October 2022 report that 6,577 people could potentially receive pardons.
Biden’s pardon announcement in October has led other state governors to take similar action. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced that he would be exploring statewide weed pardons, and later signing an executive order in November to allow medical cannabis use. More than 1,450 Arizona residents with federal cannabis possession convictions were pardoned on Oct. 25, 2022.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued more than 45,000 pardons in November 2022. “We are a state, and a nation, of second chances. Today, I am taking steps to right the wrongs of a flawed, inequitable, and outdated criminal justice system in Oregon when it comes to personal marijuana possession,” Brown said in a statement. “For the estimated 45,000 individuals who are receiving a pardon for prior state convictions of marijuana possession, this action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.”
Most recently, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf granted 369 pardons on Jan. 12, which adds to a total of 2,540. “I have taken this process very seriously—reviewing and giving careful thought to each and every one of these 2,540 pardons and the lives they will impact,” Wolf said. “Every single one of the Pennsylvanians who made it through the process truly deserves their second chance, and it’s been my honor to grant it.”
President Joe Biden added his signature last week to a bipartisan bill that seeks to broaden and streamline research into medical cannabis.
Dubbed the “Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act,” the law “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development,” according to a release on Friday from the White House.
Despite medical marijuana’s ubiquity throughout the country, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, which has hamstrung the potential for research into the area. The newly signed bill aims to change that.
It passed the United States Senate last month with bipartisan support after it won approval in the U.S. House of Representatives with the Democratic and Republican votes in July.
It is the byproduct of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, which celebrated Biden’s signing of the bill on Friday.
The group of lawmakers touted the measure as “the first standalone federal marijuana reform law enacted since the adoption of the Controlled Substances Act in 1971.”
The law aims to “facilitate research on marijuana and its potential health benefit…by streamlining the application process for scientific marijuana studies and removing existing barriers for researchers that frequently slow the research process.”
“For decades, the federal government has stood in the way of science and progress—peddling a misguided and discriminatory approach to cannabis. Today marks a monumental step in remedying our federal cannabis laws. The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act will make it easier to study the impacts and potential of cannabis,” Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH), and Brian Mast (R-FL) said in a joint statement following Biden’s signing. “Research is foundational for the path forward on cannabis policy. Research is essential to better understand the therapeutic benefits of cannabis that have the potential to help millions of Americans struggling with chronic pain, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, anxiety disorders and more.”
“We celebrate the enactment of this critical and long-overdue legislation, and we know there is much more to do to remedy the ongoing harms of the failed war on drugs,” the chairs added.
In the other chamber, Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California said that there is “substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits,” and that the bill “will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications.”
“We know that cannabidiol-derived medications can be effective for conditions like epilepsy. This bill will help refine current medical CBD practices and develop important new applications. After years of negotiation, I’m delighted that we’re finally enacting this bill that will result in critical research that could help millions,” Feinstein said.
The group of lawmakers said that the caucus “will continue working to reimagine the federal government’s approach to cannabis and enact further reforms,” including “the SAFE Banking package, the Veterans Equal Access Act, the PREPARE Act, and the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”
It marks the second action that Biden has taken on federal marijuana policy in the last two months. In October, the president announced pardons for those who have previously been convicted of simple pot-related offenses under federal law.
In addition, Biden also signaled his desire to move toward federal decriminalization, saying he has directed cabinet officials to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, which enshrines federal prohibition on pot.
“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in his announcement. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
A new poll released on Tuesday shows that nearly nine out of 10 Americans believe that cannabis should be legal in some form, with a strong majority saying that recreational marijuana should be legalized for adults. The survey, which was conducted by the Pew Research Center last month, was published online on November 22 after being administered during the first half of October.
The results of the poll, which were essentially unchanged from a similar survey conducted in April 2021, showed that 88% of American adults surveyed believe that marijuana should be legalized. More than half (59%) said that medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis should be legal, while nearly a third (30%) said that cannabis should be legalized for medicinal use only. Only one in 10 respondents said that marijuana should be illegal in all cases.
Support For Legalization Varied By Age
Support for recreational marijuana legalization was sharply divided by the age of the poll’s respondents, with only 30% of those 75 and older believing that all forms of cannabis should be legalized. By contrast, 72% of those 18 to 29 years old said that both recreational marijuana and medical cannabis should be legalized, while 62% of respondents age 30 to 49 said the same. Just over half (54%) of adults aged 50 to 64 said both recreational and medical marijuana should be legal and 53% aged 65 to 74 agreed.
The new survey also found varying levels of support for marijuana legalization based on the political affiliation of respondents. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said that they believed that marijuana should be legal for both recreational and medical use and another 21% said that only medical marijuana should be legalized. Among liberal Democrats, 84% said both forms of cannabis should be legal, while nearly two-thirds (63%) of moderate and conservative Democrats said that they held the same view.
However, less than half (45%) of Republicans and independent voters who lean Republican said both medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis should be legal, with an additional 39% saying only medical marijuana should be legalized. A majority (60%) of moderate and liberal Republicans said that both medical and recreational marijuana should be legalized, while less than four out of 10 (37%) conservative Republicans said both forms of cannabis should be legal.
Poll Taken After Presidential Pardons Announced
The new poll was conducted after President Joe Biden announced on October 6 that he would pardon all federal convictions for simple marijuana possession and encouraged state governors around the country to take similar action. At the same time, the president directed the U.S. attorney general and the head of the Department of Health and Human Services to examine the rescheduling of cannabis under federal drug laws.
About three weeks following the completion of the survey, voters in five states decided on ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana in the November midterm elections. The legalization bids succeeded in Maryland and Missouri, while similar proposals in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota were rejected by voters.
The new Pew Research Center poll, which was conducted October 10 through 16, also identified different levels of support for marijuana legalization among different racial groups. A majority of white (60%) and Black (68%) adults were in favor of ending the prohibition on both medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis. By contrast, less than half of both Hispanic (49%) and Asian (48%) respondents said that they were in favor of full legalization. The survey’s overall results are similar to a recently released Gallup Poll that also showed strong support for legalizing marijuana. In that survey, which was taken between October 3 and October 20 and did not differentiate between medical cannabis and recreational marijuana, more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents said that they favored legalization, tying a record high for the poll. A Monmouth Universtiy poll released last month showed similar support.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved landmark legislation to expand medical marijuana research, marking the first time both chambers of Congress have passed a standalone cannabis bill. The measure, titled the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, received the approval of the House of Representatives during the summer and now heads to the desk of President Joseph Biden for his consideration.
Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, the co-sponsor of the legislation in the House along with Maryland Republican Representative Andy Hariss, noted the significance of the legislation after the Senate vote on Wednesday.
“After working on the issue of cannabis reform for decades, finally the dam is starting to break. The passage of my Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act in the House and Senate represents a historic breakthrough in addressing the federal government’s failed and misguided prohibition of cannabis,” Blumenauer, the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in a statement. “As we have seen in state after state, the public is tired of waiting for the federal government to catch up. More than 155 million Americans—nearly half of our nation’s population—now reside in states where adult-use of cannabis is legal.”
In July, the bill was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 325 to 95, an overwhelming bipartisan majority in a time of intense partisan division in Washington, D.C. Passage of the bill could signal a new era for marijuana policy in Congress, where other legislation including a bill to allow regulated cannabis businesses access to the banking system are awaiting Senate approval. In the Senate, where the legislation was passed by unanimous consent on Wednesday, the bill was sponsored by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii.
“For far too long, Congress has stood in the way of science and progress, creating barriers for researchers attempting to study cannabis and its benefits,” Blumenauer continued. “At a time when more than 155 million Americans reside where adult-use of cannabis is legal at the state or local level and there four million registered medical marijuana users with many more likely to self-medicate, it is essential that we are able fully study the impacts of cannabis use.”
Legislation Eases Restrictions on Marijuana Research
The bill is designed to ease federal restrictions on researching cannabis, which is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. The legislation streamlines the application process for the approval of marijuana-related scientific studies, making it easier for researchers to understand the potential medical benefits of cannabis.
Under the legislation, the U.S. attorney general would be given a 60-day deadline to approve an application for marijuana research or submit a request for additional information to the research applicant. The bill also includes provisions to encourage the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to support the development of medicines derived from cannabis.
“There is substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits. Our bill will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications,” Feinstein said in a statement from the senator’s office. “We know that cannabidiol-derived medications can be effective for conditions like epilepsy. This bill will help refine current medical CBD practices and develop important new applications. After years of negotiation, I’m delighted that we’re finally enacting this bill that will result in critical research that could help millions.”
President Expected To Sign Bill
While campaigning for office in 2020, Biden called for easing the federal restrictions on cannabis research. And last month, he directed the “Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” In a statement, Schatz appeared to indicate that he expects the president to sign the cannabis research bill passed by Congress.
“The medical community agrees that we need more research to learn about marijuana’s potential health benefits, but our federal laws today are standing in the way of us finding those answers,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill, which is now set to become law, will remove excessive barriers that make it difficult for researchers to study the effectiveness and safety of marijuana, and hopefully, give patients more treatment options.”
But not everyone is hailing the legislation as a step forward for cannabis policy reform. Shane Pennington, an attorney with the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, wrote in an email to High Times that the legislation “is a terrible terrible bill that will make research harder, not easier.” He explains the legislation unnecessarily complicates research into cannabidiol, among other issues.
“The bill imposes various DEA-registration requirements on entities seeking to handle CBD and/or ‘any [marijuana] derivative, extract, preparation, or compound.’ Under current law, however, neither CBD nor any non-marijuana cannabis ‘derivative, extract, preparation, or compound’ qualifies as a ‘controlled substance.’ Thus, as things stand today, you don’t need any special DEA registration to research them,” Pennington wrote on Substack. “By imposing registration requirements on these otherwise-non-controlled substances, this bill dramatically increases barriers to cannabis research.”
Noah Rubin is pretty much the big brother I never had. A little over five years ago, he hired me as an editor at Merry Jane. We quickly discovered that we were coincidentally from the same rural town in Massachusetts, as well as some of the only jews hailing from the small community. We went to the same college (though at different times; Noah is 13 years my senior), we both cut our teeth professionally at record labels and print magazines, and—most importantly—we both really like weed. Yes, it was kush kismet that the guy became one of my closest pals and regular collaborators.
While Noah and I have both moved on from Merry Jane, he’s kept his THC ties fully ablaze and just dropped a marijuana magnum opus. His book How We Roll: The Art and Culture of Joints, Blunts, and Spliffs, out now via Chronicle Books, is required reading for seasoned tokers and the cannabis curious alike. It may very well be the first in-depth text that explores one of the most foundational aspects of weed culture (CONSUMPTION methods!), and it elegantly mixes tutorials and history alongside interviews, epic stories from iconic smokers like Snoop and Tommy Chong, do’s and don’ts, illustrated guides, and much, much more.
I’m proud of my boy, and not surprised that the text is flying off shelves and making waves in the world of printed matter. Noah is also promoting How We Roll in a nuanced way by offering rolling tutorials at music festivals across the country, on top of pop-ups and activations at weed-friendly establishments that aren’t distinctly plant-touching. Places like Morgenstern’s Ice Cream in New York, where he’ll be celebrating the book on November 4th, 5th, and 6th in an event co-presented by WeedFeed. Come say hey and smoke one if you’re in town!
To ring in this milestone for my bud, we thought it was time to give Noah the Cash Only treatment—and man did he come correct. Below, we discuss squirreling homegrown weed from Cantor Bob, some of the more exotic locales where Noah has sparked one up, and why it’s time to finally get Joe Biden high.
Much love and big ups, Noah! See you at the trippy tree.
What was your first time smoking weed like? Were you in Sherborn, our hometown?
Noah Rubin: So it’s funny that you ask about Sherborn, because that’s definitely where my first memories of smoking weed are from. As you know, being a Jew in semi-rural Massachusetts is a bit of a rarity, but one of my best friend’s growing up, Ori, and her family were deeply involved in the Jewish community out there. Her father Bob was actually a cantor in the temple a few towns away. For the uninitiated, a cantor is almost on the level of the rabbi; he sings all the prayers in the temple etcetera. So I would go to their house for sabbath dinner on occasion and we would notice that after knocking out the prayers, Cantor Bob would disappear for a bit. He’d come back with bloodshot eyes, smelling kind of funny, and in an extra good mood. As we got older, we started to put one and one together, and realized that Cantor Bob was actually a stoner on the low.
Once we realized that, we started sniffing around until one day Ori came to school and let us know that she was in her mom’s garden and noticed that there was a plant that looked an awful lot like a weed plant. That, of course, got us plotting how we could get some. We sort of started whispering about that, and I think the parents overheard us. Before we knew it, the plant disappeared from the garden.
It was a smart defensive move on the adults’ part, but it tipped us off that Cantor Bob had harvested it and stashed it somewhere in the house. It didn’t take Ori too long to figure out where the stash was—and that became the first time we had access to a steady supply of weed.
And the weed was honestly amazing. Cantor Bob also brewed his own beer at that time, which was always fermenting in the basement and there was more of it than he could drink. Needless to say, my parents were wondering why I was so interested in going over to their house for sabbath dinner all the time. Even though Ori’s mom was an incredible chef, it definitely was Cantor Bob’s beer and bud combo that kept us coming back for more. We’d eat an amazing dinner, then steal our party favors and chill on the couch on the second floor of their garage. I remember those as some sacred evenings on multiple levels.
Your book opens with a great anecdote about scoring nug in mainland China. What are some other foreign locales you’ve lit one up in? Any memorable weed/travel stories that didn’t make it into the book?
Definitely. My parents were actually quite chill when I was a kid, so I didn’t have a lot of rules. So when I asked if I could go on a solo trip to Europe at the age of 15 with a friend of mine who was a couple years older, they said yes without much hesitation. And you’ve got to remember this was before cell phones or anything, so they were basically letting me go to Europe alone for three weeks at the age of 15 with the understanding that they weren’t going to hear from me for that entire time.
Of course, me and my buddy Geoff who I went with immediately routed the trip through Amsterdam. We got there after a couple days in Germany and the first thing we did was hit up a coffee shop where it was a weed cornucopia like nothing I had ever seen. I remember we bought this really amazing black Nepalese hash and proceeded to roll it up in a spliff and get really blazed. I think we also bought some “space cakes,” which was more than we should have taken all at once. The next thing I remember, I was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the Salvador Dali Museum, looking at a painting from like six inches away. I was so high off my ass that I literally didn’t know where I was.
Fortunately, after a couple hours, I got my head straight and had something to eat and we started drinking beers in the red light district. I spent the rest of the night chit-chatting with ladies of the night, probably annoying them as a weird 15-year-old kid who had never really experienced anything before.
While working on How We Roll, did you discover anything surprising about your own relationship with weed? For example, did you realize you were better or more knowledgeable about X than you previously thought? Did you find any gaps in your cannabis education or consumption skill sets that you had to bone up on?
Working on How We Roll definitely reminded me of all the amazing people in my life that I have smoked weed with from around the world. I never even thought about that before, but all of these relationships that I’ve had for many years and cherished had some component of smoking weed as a recurring theme. I was really happy that the book pushed me to examine that part of my own personal relationships, as well as just read up on as much material as I could find about rolling and weed history.
Not only did I brush up my general knowledge, I also had to roll a ton of joints. I forced myself to roll every joint I wrote about in the book until it was really good. That gave me a good basic vocabulary of different things to roll and I am pretty grateful for that in hindsight.
Do you have a favorite quote, tip, or particular illustration from the book?
I would just say overall that I’m super happy with how the illustrations came out. I’m extremely grateful to my illustrator Tasia Prince for hitting such a home run with the artwork. Tasia and I go back as collaborators to when she was an intern at Mass Appeal and I was editor-in-chief of the mag over there. She would always show me these dope little drawings she was working on and I was always impressed. Now she’s a big-time tech executive, but her art skills are super on point, so collaborating with her on this project was an extension of this relationship that has meant a lot to me over the years.
In terms of my favorite quote, I think that the story that Tommy Chong told about being in the room with a stinky ass joint alongside John Lennon and Rod Stewart still slaps, even though I’ve heard it several times before. And speaking of quotes, I got to say I’m really appreciative to the Anthony Bourdain estate for letting me clear his iconic quote about wiping your ass and omelettes and the importance of rolling a joint—shout out to my boy Nick Morgenstern for connecting the dots on that one.
If you could get the book into any living person’s hands, who would you want to read it?
I guess now that President Biden is trying to be down with the weed, I think someone on his team should put him on to my book so he can get a basic grasp of where a lot of this shit comes from and the culture behind it. If anyone out there can make it happen, please holler at me.
Do you have a current favorite weed strain? How do you like to consume it? (Bong, joint, etc.)
My old friend Luca at Biscotti just hit me with his line of flower, and it’s pretty fire. Even though Biscotti really made a name for themselves with premium hash, they’re definitely coming correct with this new product. I smoked the Sugar Biscuits strain the other night in a big fat joint then crushed some Thai food at Ruen Pair in L.A. I gotta say it was an amazing combo.
Also, just for the record, even though I’m the guy that just wrote a book about joints, I am a big fan of bongs in general, as well. I always keep my handy bong, Mr. Pink, on deck when I need a late night rip.
Do you have any favorite weed products—any particular papers, grinders, or whatever?
The beautiful thing about being a California resident is that we have a lot of amazing product innovations here… like shit I would never have dreamed of as a young weed smoker. One product I want to shout out in particular is the Pure Beauty “menthol cannabis cigarettes.” Definitely not a product for the purists out there, but an amazing overall experience for someone like myself who wants to have a menthol ciggy on the low once in a while. Definitely scratches that itch like none other. I also want to give a shout-out to Krush grinders cause I think they make a really beautifully-engineered product. And then in the world of edibles, I think Harmony’s Malus infused cider is top notch. Super dry and delicious with a good THC kick.
Lately, what activity do you like to do after you’ve gotten stoned?
I’ve been a big fan of smoking weed and doing outdoor activities for a long time. Back in the day, I would roll with a crew of folks all over New York City on our bikes. We would pick destinations 10 or 15 miles from Manhattan and ride out there and smoke a few big blunts and then find something amazing to eat, like L&B Spumoni Gardens. That kind of defined an era for me and we had a lot of great times together. Now that I’m in L.A., if I have the opportunity to smoke a joint and go hiking in Griffith Park or basically anywhere else, I will definitely do that.
Can you recommend something to watch while baked?
Since you’re a cat guy, I’m guessing you might be up on this video game called Stray—it’s a super chill and interesting video game. Basically Stray imagines a post-apocalyptic world in which you’re a cat adventuring through an abandoned city. The music is amazing and even though there are some hectic moments in the game, it’s a super zen and exploratory experience overall. I highly recommend checking it out.
Currently, what do you like to listen to after smoking?
The Jamaican artist Protoje just dropped his new album called Third Time’s the Charm. It’s a great example of an artist taking classic roots ideas and updating them in an interesting way, while still staying true to a core reggae aesthetic.
Also gotta give some props to my man Ev Bird who just dropped his debut EP Puff Pieceon Royal Mountain Records. He’s a young indie artist with a genius instinct for writing chill tunes. I connected him with Boldy James for a song called “The Ring,” which has been doing well. Definitely check that one out, too.
Can you recommend something to read after smoking besides your own book?
Who’s in your dream blunt rotation? Dead or alive.
I honestly feel so blessed by the amazing people I have had the opportunity to smoke weed with. It’s kind of crazy when I think about it. In terms of people I haven’t smoked with that might be in my dream rotation, I guess I got to go back to politics, cause I think it’s time we get Joe Biden high. And maybe let’s invite Obama, ‘cause I bet he’s got some solid rolling skills. And I’m even down to get some maverick Republicans in the rotation, too. We all gotta start smoking weed together cause this is an amazing country that needs to do more in leading the world to be a better place than it is right now.
You’ve been doing some nuanced promotion for the book release, including events and classes you’re teaching at music festivals, as well as pop-ups at stores that have nothing to do with weed. Can you tell me about this approach to getting the word out and what else is on the horizon?
I like bringing some of the message to people in non-conventional ways—food, music, and art are things that I’ve always closely associated with my love of weed.
On that note, I’m looking forward to the upcoming How We Roll event with Morgenstern‘s Ice Cream in NYC, in collaboration with WeedFeed. It’s going to be a three-day event—November 4th, 5th, and 6th—celebrating rolling culture alongside one of my favorite things besides weed: ice cream. Nick Morgenstern, the brains behind the operation, collaborated with me to develop an incredible variety of sundaes that people will be able to experience. It’s a whole different way to help bring to life some of the regional vibes that I explore in my book.
President Joe Biden announced on Oct. 6 that he would be pardoning people across the country who currently have cannabis convictions on their record. According to the official White House press release, this means the pardon covers “…all current United States citizens and lawful permanent residents who committed the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act…”
The statement also made it clear that only “simple” convictions would be pardoned. “My intent by this proclamation is to pardon only the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of Federal law or in violation of D.C. Code 48–904.01(d)(1), and not any other offenses related to marijuana or other controlled substances,” Biden said.
Since the announcement was made, there has been no further announcements about the number of people who are to be pardoned, or their names. However, estimates provided by the U.S. Sentencing Commission provides insight into how many people could potentially receive a pardon.
Founded in 1984, the U.S. Sentencing Commission was created “to reduce sentencing disparities and promote transparency and proportionality in sentencing.” As an independent agency, its purpose is to collect and analyze data in regard to information related to federal sentences, and creates guidelines for crime policy in multiple branches of government.
In a report published on Oct. 13, the commission shows a chart featuring “The number of federal offenders convicted only of 21 U.S.C. § 844 Involving Marijuana” which covers the range of years between 1992-2021. An analysis of each year breaks down the number of U.S. citizen offenders, with a total of 6,577. The report notes that no offenders are in Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), as of Jan. 29, 2022.
In a total of all of these offenders who have at least one count of simple possession (as defined by 21 U.S.C. 844) 78.5% of offenders were male, and 21.6% were female. In regards to race, 41.3% were White, 31.8% “Hispanic,” 23.6% Black, and 3.3% Other.
Another chart shows that offenders with convictions “Involving Marijuana and Other Drugs” includes a total of 415 people within the same time frame, and an additional chart shows 555 offenders “Involving only marijuana who also have other convictions.”
A breakdown of each Court of Appeals Circuit and its respective jurisdiction shows that the highest percent of regional offenders came from “Virginia East” at 9.7% (covering courts in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia), “Texas West” at 8.8% (covering courts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas), “Arizona” at 16.7% and “California South” at 15% (both of which are included in United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which includes courts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington State). All other district percentages range from 0.1% to 4.3%.
Many states have already created programs to assist residents in expunging, vacating, or sealing cannabis convictions. According to Reuters, these efforts have helped over 2 million people clear their records.
Biden’s initial pardon announcement urged state governors to issue pardons as well. Most recently though, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb stated that he would not be pardoning anyone for cannabis convictions, and instead recommended that people seeking expungement use state programs that are already in place.
Pardons are still a hot topic after President Joe Biden announced on Oct. 6 that he would be pardoning citizens who have federal convictions for cannabis, and asked that state governors do the same to provide relief for people in their regions. However, Indiana Gov. Holcomb recently stated that he would not be pardoning simple cannabis convictions.
“The president should work with Congress, not around them, to discuss changes to the law federally, especially if he is requesting governors to overturn the work local prosecutors have done by simply enforcing the law,” Holcomb said, according to ABC57. “Until these federal law changes occur, I can’t in good conscience consider issuing blanket pardons for all such offenders.”
Holcomb added that his state already offers expungement programs. “What Indiana has done, is act proactively, not reactively, by creating an opportunity for those who have maintained a clean record since a conviction of simple marijuana possession and a number of lower-level offenses, to apply for—and receive—an expungement which seals their record,” Holcomb said.
However he did confirm that many people who currently hold cannabis convictions on their record deserve to have an opportunity to have it removed. “I do agree that many of these offenses should not serve as a life sentence after an individual has served their time,” Holcomb added. “Expunged convictions cannot be disclosed to employers, to those who grant licenses, or when seeking housing.”
At a luncheon on Oct. 12, Holcomb shared his opinions on favoring expungement over pardons. “If you are busted for simple possession of marijuana and stay clean for a number of years, five years, then you can pursue expungement. That is never disclosed and that will never be in the way. If you do the crime and pay the time, then you can move on,” Holcomb said, adding that he does not believe cannabis should be in the same Schedule category as substances such as heroin or morphine. “But that’s Congress’s job.”
In December 2021, Holcomb began ramping up for the legislative session which began in January 2022. Although at the time, the Indiana Democratic Party stated that adult-use cannabis legalization was a top priority, Holcomb explained his support for medical access instead. “The law that needs to change is the federal law,” said Holcomb in December 2021.
News outlet WSBT asked Indiana legislators about Biden’s recent pardons, and many were supportive, but leaned toward federal descheduling. “I think this does reveal that legalization is inevitable in our future and whether or not Indiana wants to set that up at the state level or wait for the federal government to do that,” said Rep. Maureen Bauer. “So, for us, it’s still [a] schedule one drug. And I don’t see the state of Indiana changing the legalization of the drug until federally it’s descheduled,” added Sen. Mike Bohacek.
A pardon isn’t enough to release people from prison, partially because many people’s sentences are more complicated. According to Marion County Sheriff’s Office Captain Mitch Gore as of Oct. 13, the Indianapolis Adult Detention Center only had one inmate who was convicted for cannabis possession, while 320 others were convicted both because of possession as well as other non-cannabis related charges.
Allen County Sheriff’s Office Captain Steve Stone also confirmed that not very many people could be released immediately. “It would be a very, very low number. We wouldn’t even arrest you because you’d be out before we were even done doing the paperwork,” Stone said.
More Arizonans with federal convictions for marijuana possession will benefit from the pardons recently announced by President Joseph Biden than past offenders from nearly every other state, according to a report from azcentral.
An analysis from the United States Sentencing Commission found that more than 1,450 people from Arizona were convicted of federal marijuana possession charges between 1992 and 2021, representing more than 20% of the estimated 6,500 such convictions affected by the pardons. California is the only state with more people who will be pardoned under the executive action, with about 1,550 federal convictions for low-level cannabis possession. The only other state with more than 1,000 such convictions was Texas, with 1,015.
It is not clear how many of those with federal marijuana possession convictions also had other convictions that were not covered by the pardons. However, Arizona had the highest number of convictions for simple marijuana possession than any other state since 2015, according to Sentencing Commission information. Approximately 93% of the 500 convictions during that time resulted in prison sentences, the data show.
“For a lot of people out there, I imagine this is a really welcome relief,” said Jonathan Udell, an attorney with the Rose Law Group and acting co-director of Arizona NORML.
“I think there’s a lot of people out there that really feel the sting of being branded a non-law-abiding citizen,” he continued. “And this sends a very big message to those people that you’re not a bad person because you smoked a plant one time that grew out of the ground or possessed some grass in your pocket.”
Biden’s Pardons Affect 6,500 Convictions
On October 6, Biden announced that he had issued an executive order to pardon all federal convictions for simple marijuana possession. The pardons will affect about 6,500 people who were convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and thousands more with similar charges in the District of Columbia, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
Biden also called on state governors to take similar action in their jurisdictions, where the vast majority of cannabis possession charges are filed and prosecuted as state offenses. Additionally, the president directed Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department to review the continued classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. According to the legislation, the Schedule 1 classification is meant for drugs with no medical value and a high risk of abuse.
Activists Demonstrate at White House for Cannabis Clemency
Although many marijuana policy reform activists and representatives of the cannabis industry hailed Biden’s pardons as a historic step, others were unsatisfied with the limited scope of the action, which offers no relief for other federal marijuana-related convictions and resulted in no federal prisoners being released from prison. On Monday, activist groups including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, D.C. Marijuana Justice, the Last Prisoner Project and Maryland Marijuana Justice demonstrated outside the White House, calling on Biden to take more significant action on cannabis clemency.
“It was a failed opportunity to make real change. The president could have done so much more than he did,” Steve DeAngelo, co-founder of the Last Prisoner Project, told the Washington Post. “He really only did the bare minimum thing that he could do to generate a positive-sounding press release.”
Featuring speakers including hip hop icons Redman and M1 of Dead Prez, a 50-foot inflatable joint and the arrest of at least one protester for passing through a security gate without authorization, the demonstrators urged Biden to release all federal prisoners with nonviolent marijuana-related convictions. Cannabis activist Adam Eidinger, co-founder of D.C. Marijuana Justice, said the protestors’ demands include releasing 100 prisoners immediately and all 2,800 by Christmas.
“The greatest civil rights tragedy of the modern era is putting people behind bars for cannabis,” said Eidinger. “If we get any kind of interest from the White House, and they are willing to schedule meetings with representatives of those protests, then I imagine that we’ll call off civil disobedience and declare victory.”
Hip hop icons Redman and M1 of Dead Prez will join cannabis activists in Washington, D.C. on Monday to protest the Biden administration’s failure to release people imprisoned on federal marijuana convictions. The rally, which is being billed as an act of civil disobedience, will bring together cannabis policy reform groups including Students for Sensible Drug Policy, D.C. Marijuana Justice, the Last Prisoner Project and Maryland Marijuana Justice as members protest in front of the White House on October 24.
Steve DeAngelo, a cannabis policy reform leader and co-founder of the Last Prisoner Project, said that he has helped organize Monday’s demonstration to bring attention to the plight of those imprisoned on nonviolent marijuana charges, often for decades. Activists hope the protest will spur the White House to take action on cannabis clemency before the November general election.
“As the nation heads into the midterms, I am calling for one simple thing— that President Biden keep the promise he made during the last election cycle, to release those people still serving prison sentences for cannabis convictions,” DeAngelo wrote in an email to High Times. “As the White House itself has admitted, the recently announced pardons will not free one single person.”
On October 6, President Joseph Biden announced that he had issued an executive order pardoning all people who have been convicted on federal charges of simple marijuana possession. An analysis of Biden’s executive order conducted by the New York Times estimated that the pardons will apply to about 6,500 people convicted of federal weed possession charges between 1992 and 2021 and thousands more with similar convictions in Washington, D.C. But the action provides no relief for cannabis prisoners currently behind bars, most on marijuana distribution and related charges.
“At a minimum, if President Biden really wants the support of cannabis voters, as a show of good faith, he should immediately release at least 100 of the 2800 federal prisoners currently serving time on non-violent cannabis charges,” DeAngelo said. “If President Biden refuses to act, I will gather at the White House on October 24 along with hip hop legends M1 and Redman, and hundreds of other cannabis activists, to hold the President’s feet to the fire.”
M1 said, “I decided to participate in this action because of the inaction of this government to step on the right side of his/herstory. My cannabis community deserves freedom and justice. And with my cultural activist comrades, we will keep our finger on the pulse of the People. Free ‘em ALL!”
Biden’s announcement earlier this month also included a call for governors to take similar action on cannabis clemency at the state level. The president also directed Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to review cannabis’ status as a Schedule 1 drug. Despite the historic nature of Biden’s pardons, activists argue that the president did not go far enough.
“I’m outraged that the President would make an executive action on cannabis but release zero of our incarcerated friends and family,” Kat Ebert, board chair of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said in a statement from the group. “He’s forcing us to raise our voices to be heard in order for the wider public to understand cannabis prisoners are still not free. On October 24th we plan to make it clear to the Democratic leadership that we won’t accept mostly symbolic actions. We demand clemency for all cannabis prisoners.”
DeAngelo is the co-founder of the Last Prisoner Project, a group working to free those imprisoned on cannabis charges. In addition to the activist groups involved, formerly incarcerated individuals and local cannabis freedom fighters will also take part in the protest.
“If President Biden truly wants to repair the harms of our nation’s unjust policy of prohibition, this initial progress must be followed up with bolder action—action that would actually lead to freedom for cannabis prisoners,” said Sarah Gersten, LPP executive director and general counsel.
Monday’s demonstration is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time at the gates of the White House, with Redman and M1 slated to appear to join the call for cannabis clemency. The crowd will gather at the Andrew Jackson statue in Lafayette Square before engaging in expected civil disobedience nearby, with the goal of drawing attention to the lack of people released from federal prison as a result of Biden’s executive order.
“DCMJ is joining protests to free all cannabis prisoners because we’ve simply waited too long,” said Adam Eidinger, co-founder of D.C. Marijuana Justice, a group that has spearheaded cannabis policy reform efforts in the nation’s capital. “We are excited that students are leading this effort to make tangible gains on freeing cannabis prisoners whose continued confinement is immoral and unjustified.”
People who love cannabis are chill AF! Everyone who smokes weed is suuuper laid back. And if you work in the weed industry, you’re lucky to be following your passion surrounded by like-minded, easy-going folks. Mellow, tolerant, inclusive, live-and-let-live, that’s the vibe of our stoney, happy world, right?
Merp. If you work in cannabis or you’re involved in any advocacy or activism around the plant, you know the deal: it’s a total shitshow. The cannabis community is splintering as legalization leaves many communities behind while falling prices and an overabundance of legally-grown cannabis have triggered an industry-wide scramble for companies to stay afloat. People are mad as hell in every sector of the weed world — and as Jon Cappetta pointed out in his recent WEIRDOS entry, there’s a hater around every corner. (I riled a bunch of ’em up when I wrote about sexism in the weed industry. Just look at some of the comments on the IG post — so, so mad. Ahahaha.)
I wrote two stories about the announcement — an explainer of Biden’s policies for Vox and a timeline of his evolution from “Drug War Joe” to “Dank Brandon” for Rolling Stone. And, wow, guess what? People were mad. Sigh. The timeline article was “lame-ass,” according to someone who was incensed that I highlighted that Biden was the architect of some of the most harmful drug war policies of the last 40 years. Somehow, I was “trying to get Democrats to not vote in a month,” they complained. What?! I just… ugh.
Everyone’s tired and furious about everything right now, I get it. And people on Twitter really love to bitch. But what struck me as I was reporting those two stories was that just about everyone I interviewed, from activists to industry leaders, said that Biden’s action was a good thing. Even if it was an attempt to drum up support for Democrats ahead of the midterms, it’s a leap forward in federal cannabis policy. As Kris Krane wrote in Forbes, “For the first time ever, a sitting United States President has acknowledged the failure of cannabis criminalization and pledged to take bold action to address it.”
Attorney David Holland, a partner with Prince Lobel Tye LLP and executive director of Empire State NORML, thinks Biden’s move is a paradigm shift: “He’s setting the stage for future action,” Holland said. Stephanie Shepard, who was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison as a first-time, non-violent offender and now works as partnerships manager with the non-profit Last Prisoner Project, also had a positive take on the news, even though her record won’t be affected. “Any time someone receives any type of relief from the collateral consequences of the war on the plant, I’m happy,” Shepard said.
Shepard added that Biden’s next step should be pardoning people like her who have been convicted of other non-violent cannabis offenses, including conspiracy to distribute: “He has the power with the stroke of a pen to bring home thousands who are prisoners of this war.” There’s no doubt that Biden needs to do a lot more to get people out of prison and decriminalize cannabis under federal law; his announcement was “a drop in the ocean of injustice,” said Udi Ofer, the former deputy national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking to The New York Times.
But it is a step forward. Even if you think it’s lip service, a calculated move to drum up votes, anemic, useless, toothless — can you honestly say that it’s not a move in the right direction? So here’s my plea: let’s all celebrate this win together, no matter how far apart many of us are on so many things. There’s plenty of time to fight over the price of weed, whether or not the marijuana movement has lost its way, how we’re failing the communities most impacted by the drug war, why Biden is terrible; the list goes on and on.
When you’re living in crisis, and everything feels like shit, it’s exceedingly important to celebrate the good stuff. Maybe you’re struggling and feeling angry and hopeless; I know I feel that way a lot of the time right now. And perhaps you and I think differently about politics, religion, and economics. But I bet we both want the same basic things when it comes to cannabis: we want it removed from the Controlled Substances Act, decriminalized at a federal level, and available without criminal penalty to anyone who wants to benefit from it. Those are the fundamentals that you and I agree on. We can fight about the rest later.
Biden moved us forward a square on the big ol’ government chess board, and I’m counting it as a win for weed. Spark one if you agree! Then, come November 8, make sure you vote for the folks who will keep pushing the conversation forward. You can check to make sure you’re registered to vote at Headcount.org. And, hey — you’re doing a great fucking job.