The pardon application for federal simple possession cannabis convictions is still “not yet available” on the Department of Justice’s website, more than three months after President Joe Biden announced the pardons as part of one of the most significant shifts in federal cannabis policy in decades.
Biden said in an October 6 proclamation that he would issue the pardons, and encouraged state governors to follow suit. Department of Justice spokesperson Anthony Coley said at the time that the DOJ would “expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation.”
But 112 days later, the pardon application still hasn’t been posted on the department’s website. “We cannot accept applications or issue certificates of pardon until our official procedures have been announced,” the Department of Justice’s FAQ on Biden’s order says. “We will update this page as soon as we have additional information to provide.”
The White House said in October that “thousands” of people who had been convicted of simple weed possession offenses could be “denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result.” No one is currently in federal prison for such offenses.
The cannabis legalization advocacy group NORML issued a statement Wednesday saying that while the organization is “grateful that President Biden recognizes the failure of marijuana prohibition” and for what the administration had done thus far to change weed policy, the lack of an application is still having real world impacts on people who would otherwise be eligible for a pardon.
“While the White House rightfully cites these pardons as a major accomplishment, those who could benefit from them continue to face undue difficulties obtaining employment, housing, education, and other vital services while these pardon certificates remain unavailable,” NORML political director Morgan Fox said in a statement to VICE News. “Many of the people who are eligible for these pardons have been waiting years for relief. They shouldn’t have to wait any longer.”
Neither the Department of Justice nor the White House responded to a request for comment from VICE News asking why the pardon application had been delayed or when it would be published.
Federal simple cannabis possession convictions have been steadily falling for years, after a massive spike during the Obama administration—from 240 in 2008 to 2,172 in 2014, and back down to 145 in 2021, according to a United States Sentencing Commision report published this month.
But the enforcement of cannabis prohibition has long been known to be racially disproportionate. Black people make up 20 percent of Virginia’s population, but made up nearly 60 percent of defendants in cannabis-related cases between July 2021 and June 2022, after a law legalizing possession of up to an ounce went into effect, the Washington Post found in October. The majority of the Virginia cases are for possession by a person under the age of 21 and distribution, according to the Post. Despite legalizing recreational use, Virginia still has not passed a law to regulate the sale of weed.
As part of the October announcement, Biden also said he’d asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to “initiate the process of reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.” Becerra said in December that his department “would not be the ones who would be proposing [decriminalization], but we certainly would weigh in on any issue involving decriminalization of any controlled substance,” according to Marijuana Moment.
The House passed a bill last year to legalize recreational weed and another to loosen restrictions on banking for the cannabis industry, but the Senate failed to pass either. There is a glimmer of hope for the banking bill, however. House passage of the banking bill last year had the support of a majority of the Republican caucus at the time—including new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had long opposed the liberalization of cannabis laws.
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