Marijuana’s Complex Legality: Exploring its Dual Nature Despite Biden’s Pardons

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President Joe Biden’s recent expansion of marijuana-related pardons made headlines, but due to complex state laws, most convictions remain unchanged.

This move builds upon Biden’s earlier proclamation in October 2022, extending pardons to individuals convicted of simple possession under federal law. 

The updated announcement broadens the scope to include attempted simple possession and marijuana use on federal lands and in Washington, D.C. However, it crucially excludes convictions at the state level.

In expressing his rationale behind the pardon, President Biden emphasized the injustice of individuals facing incarceration for marijuana use or possession, whether at the federal or state level. 

Despite this sentiment, experts caution that the pardon’s impact remains constrained, primarily due to its non-application to individuals convicted on state charges, which constitute the bulk of these drug-related cases.

This discrepancy creates a perplexing web of laws across the nation. Although the federal government is moving away from enforcing consequences for marijuana possession, the substance remains classified as a Schedule I drug by the US Drug Enforcement 

State-Level Jurisdiction over Marijuana Laws

marijuana's-complex-legality-exploring-its-dual-nature-despite-biden's-pardons
President Joe Biden’s recent expansion of marijuana-related pardons made headlines, but due to complex state laws, most convictions remain unchanged.

Administration. This classification places it among substances deemed to have the highest potential for abuse, alongside drugs like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

While the DEA considers a recommendation to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug, the responsibility for regulating marijuana laws largely falls on individual states. 

This decentralization often results in a complex array of consequences for individuals found in possession of marijuana, contingent on various factors such as state laws, quantity possessed, and the specific type of cannabis.

Even in states where marijuana possession is fully legalized, a technical misalignment with federal law persists. The confusing interplay between federal and state statutes significantly impacts thousands of Americans. 

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws reported over 350,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2020, marking a 36% decrease from 2019, attributing the decline to legislative changes at the state level. 

However, the intricate legal landscape continues to pose challenges for those ensnared in the system, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive and uniform reforms across all jurisdictions.

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