In a historic move, President Joe Biden announced Thursday he will pardon all prior federal offenses of simple cannabis possession. This is a significant step toward federal decriminalization of cannabis and fulfills a campaign pledge to remove prior federal possession convictions and change the scheduling of the substance. Cannabis is currently a Schedule 1 narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. 

He is encouraging state governors to follow his example. Biden released a statement explaining the decision.

“Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

Pardons will not include those convicted of the sale or trafficking of cannabis. 

In his statement, he asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and Health Secretary Xavier Becerra to “expeditiously” review how cannabis is scheduled under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. It is classified as a Schedule I narcotic with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” This classification impacts the legality of possessing the substance and limits medical and scientific research.

Medical cannabis use is legal in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Adult-use of cannabis is legal in DC and 19 states.

Biden noted, “This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine — the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic.”

While the announcement falls short of full decriminalization, it will change the lives of thousands of Americans currently incarcerated for cannabis possession. “No one should be in jail because of marijuana,” he said during his presidential campaign. In today’s statement he added, “It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

Header Image: President Joe Biden Signs H.R. 335, 2021. | The White House Public Domain

  • Patricia Miller is a Managing Editor with Innovative Properties Worldwide. Her primary focus is science, technology, and policy shaping the legal cannabis sector. Follow her work when you subscribe to Cannabis & Tech Today at

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