Presidential Pardons Show Change of Heart in War on Drugs

 Presidential Pardons Show Change of Heart in War on Drugs

By Tara Zrinski

The 80’s onset of the War on Drugs, with its excessively punitive model of anti-drugs and mass incarceration, disproportionately harmed and continues to harm Black and Brown communities. In 1989, then Senator Joe Biden, criticized George H.W. Bush not because he opposed the War on Drugs, but because he didn’t think it went far enough. 

Fast forward to a week ago when President Biden had a welcome change of heart, announcing his plans to pardon people with federal convictions for marijuana possession, and urging Governors to do the same for state convictions and proposing to review Cannabis as a schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substance Act. 

For adult use cannabis advocates and groups like All Together Now PA, who are promoting their Pot Profits for Pennsylvanians (P3) Campaign, this change of heart does not mean we are out of the weeds, legislatively speaking.

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Decriminalizing simple possession and reviewing the schedule doesn’t necessarily mean that people will not face criminal charges for marijuana, that the state level markets won’t be at odds with Federal Law or that current legal medical or adult-use programs won’t be complicated by Biden’s political maneuver. Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and 19 states have legal adult-use marijuana with many more on deck to do so in 2022 and 2023. 

So, while 78% of Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized, there is a great deal of work to do at the state level to insure an equitable and just legalization process that provides more than pardons for those who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. This level of injustice requires restorative justice to impacted individuals and communities, so that any legislation moving forward includes mechanisms to right the wrongs of the past. 

Still, this is a small step in the right direction. Biden’s actions shows that even the most rigid of advocates for punitive measures in the War on Drugs can have a change of heart. Now is not the time to revel in celebration, but a time to recognize the window of opportunity that has opened to encourage legislation that will advocate for localization, prioritize social equity opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs and prevent corporate monopolies from depriving Pennsylvanians of the benefits of a thriving cannabis economy.