Biden’s Marijuana Pardons Did Not Free a Single Federal Prisoner or Deliver the Expungement He Promised

Edwin Rubis has served more than two decades of a 40-year federal prison sentence for participating in a marijuana distribution operation. Taking into account “good time” credit, he is not scheduled to be released until August 2032.

Rubis is one of about 3,000 federal prisoners whose cannabis-related sentences were unaffected by President Joe Biden’s mass pardon for low-level marijuana offenders. A protest at the White House today called attention to their predicament.

Biden’s October 6 proclamation applied only to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents convicted of simple marijuana possession under the Controlled Substances Act or the District of Columbia Code, none of whom was still incarcerated. Although his pardons could benefit as many as 10,000 or so individuals, that represents a tiny percentage of all simple possession cases, which typically are charged under state law. And Biden’s action will not release a single federal prisoner.

According to a 2021 report from Recidiviz, “more than 3,000 individuals are
currently serving marijuana-related sentences in federal prison.” The report estimated that ending federal marijuana prohibition—a step that Biden has steadfastly resisted—would reduce the federal prison population by more than 2,800 over five years.

“Your recent executive order, while a great first step, did nothing to address the thousands of federal cannabis prisoners currently incarcerated in federal prison,” 16 drug policy reform groups noted in an October 10 letter to Biden. “While your recent executive order will help many, it will not release a single one of the nearly 2,800 federal cannabis prisoners.” Although “eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis,” the letter said, “there are thousands of Americans who are serving long-term prison sentences, including some life sentences, in federal facilities for conduct involving amounts of cannabis that are far less than what dispensaries routinely handle on a daily basis.”

The moral logic of Biden’s distinction between simple possession and other marijuana offenses is puzzling. He says marijuana use should not be treated as a crime. Yet he is willing to let individuals like Rubis languish in prison merely for helping people use marijuana, which today is recognized as a legitimate business in most states, 19 of which allow recreational as well as medical use.

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Author: HP McLovincraft

Seeker of rabbit holes. Pessimist. Libertine. Contrarian. Your huckleberry. Possibly true tales of sanity-blasting horror also known as abject reality. Prepare yourself. Veteran of a thousand psychic wars. I have seen the fnords. Deplatformed on Tumblr and Twitter.

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