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Biden pardons thousands in prison for simple marijuana charges and urges governors to follow suit

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President Joe Biden said on Thursday he is pardoning people who have been convicted of simple federal marijuana possession charges and is asking state governors to do the same for state charges.

Biden said in a tweet that “no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.”

“There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My pardon will remove this burden,” he added. “I’m calling on governors to pardon simple state marijuana possession offenses. Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely for possessing marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.”

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Abbott has previously supported lowering penalties for marijuana possession but has rejected legalizing it outright, the Dallas Morning News reported in May.

The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, states on its website that current penalties for marijuana possession at the federal level are one year for a person’s first offense in any amount, 15 days to two years for a second offense and 90 days to three years for a subsequent offense.

Biden’s announcement comes as more Texans are giving into the notion that marijuana should be legal in some or all cases. A June 2021 poll from the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Politics Project showed that 27% of Texans think marijuana should be legal for medicinal purposes, 31% think small amounts should be legal for any purpose and 29% think possession should be legal in any amount.

A Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released in May showed 60% supported marijuana legalization for recreational use and more than 80% for medicinal use.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Abbott in November, tweeted his support for legalizing marijuana after Thursday’s announcement from the White House.

“When I’m governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession,” he tweeted.

Biden also said asked the attorney general and secretary of health and human services to review marijuana’s classification in the Controlled Substances Act. It’s currently scheduled as a Schedule 1, which includes what the federal government deems some of the most dangerous and addictive.

“We classify marijuana at the same level as heroin – and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense,” Biden said.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

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Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom