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.”