President Joe Biden on Thursday issued an executive order pardoning all people with a simple marijuana possession conviction on or before October 6, 2022:
Here’s Biden’s announcement:
The pardon only applies to “U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have committed, or been convicted of, the offense of simple possession of marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, as currently codified at 21 U.S.C. 844 and as previously codified elsewhere in the U.S. Code, or in violation of D.C. Code 48–904.01(d)(1),” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
It does not apply to:
- possession of larger amounts of marijuana
- possession of other drugs
- any other crime that was committed at the time
The penalty for misdemeanor simple possession is one year in prison. According to the Justice Department, that “can become [a] felony with higher penalties if [the defendant has] prior drug convictions.”
In response, social media blew up with “Dank Brandon” versions of the “Dark Brandon” meme. “Dark Brandon” originally came out of the pro-Trump camp, but Democrats quickly appropriated the meme. The original “Dark Brandon” meme showed Biden with red lasers shooting out of his eyes.
The “dank” in “Dank Brandon” plays off both the irony of the appropriation and the slang term for high-quality marijuana:
The U.S. Department of Justice issued this statement from spokesman Anthony Coley :
“The Justice Department will expeditiously administer the President’s proclamation, which pardons individuals who engaged in simple possession of marijuana, restoring political, civil, and other rights to those convicted of that offense. In coming days, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will begin implementing a process to provide impacted individuals with certificates of pardon.
“Also, in accordance with the President’s directive, Justice Department officials will work with our colleagues at the Department of Health and Human Services as they launch a scientific review of how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
What does a Presidential pardon do?
It does not wipe out the conviction. It’s not an expungenment. But it does show that the President sympathizes with whoever is being pardoned.
However, the Justice Department notes, a Presidential pardon “remove[s] civil disabilities—such as restrictions on the right to vote, to hold office, or to sit on a jury—that are imposed because of the pardoned conviction. It may also be helpful in obtaining licenses, bonding, or employment.”
Does this mean marijuana is legal? No.
The pardon does not apply if you are charged on October 7, 2022 or later. It only is for those with federal simple possession charges up until today, October 6.
While some communities, like Forest Park, have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, that does not mean that marijuana is legal. You won’t be charged with a felony, but you will still be charged with a misdemeanor.
In Clayton County, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense, as long as the weed is in green leaf or bud form and has not been concentrated (extracted) or otherwise altered. Possession of more than an ounce or of altered marijuana in any amount is a felony in Clayton County.
Under Georgia law, if you are convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana, you can get up to 12 months behind bars and a $1,000 fine, or “public works” for up to 12 months.
If you are convicted of having more than an ounce of pot, you’re looking at one to ten years in prison.
According to Georgia Department of Corrections records, in 2020, the county with the most women convicted on marijuana charges was Clayton County. While only eight women from Clayton County were serving time for marijuana charges in state prisons in 2020, most other counties in Georgia had zero, one, or two women who had been sentenced to GDOC facilities. Again, these statistics don’t show whether the charges were for less than an ounce or a warehouse-full.
How many people will this affect?
While it’s hard to say how many people in Clayton County would be able to wipe out charges under the executive order, at press time we found three people in the past 48 hours had been booked into the Clayton County Jail, each on possession of marijuana under one ounce and a traffic violation. Their marijuana charges are not federal charges, so they would not fall under the executive order.
The president said he is “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.”
“There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result,” Biden tweeted. “My pardon will remove this burden.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s violent crime statistics don’t address marijuana possession.
The U.S. Bureau of Prison’s monthly stats show the vast majority of federal inmates were convicted of drug charges. However, the data is not broken down into the type of drug offense or the quantity the inmate was convicted of possessing.
In September, the BOP reported 66,903 inmates—45.2% of the federal prison population—are serving time for drug charges. That includes anything from possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to massive cartel-scale heroin trafficking.
What if you have an old federal possession charge?
If you have a previous conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana, the executive order only applies to federal charges, Biden said.
According to the Presidential proclamation, the U.S. Attorney General, through the U.S. Pardon Attorney, “is directed to develop and announce application procedures for certificates of pardon and to begin accepting applications in accordance with such procedures as soon as reasonably practicable. The Attorney General, acting through the Pardon Attorney, shall review all properly submitted applications and shall issue certificates of pardon to eligible applicants in due course.”
The Justice Department says it’s working as quickly as possible to create an online form for people eligible for the Presidential pardon. To check the status of the online form, visit https://www.justice.gov/pardon .