Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, July 1, 2022

A reminder that cannabis clemency is ultimately up to the Prez

Marijuana Moment has this lengthy new article under the headline "It’s Up To Biden To Direct Mass Clemency For Marijuana Cases, U.S. Pardon Attorney Says." Of course, in every administration and for every type of federal defendant, grants of clemency are "up to" the President. Nevertheless, this piece serves as a useful review of the state of debate over clemency for federal marijuana offenders, and here are excerpts (with lots of links from the original):

It’s up to President Joe Biden to initiate a process of granting mass clemency for people with non-violent federal cannabis convictions, the recently appointed U.S. pardon attorney told Marijuana Moment on Thursday.

As a general practice, the Justice Department’s pardon office looks as petitions for relief on an individualized basis and then makes recommendations to the president, Pardon Attorney Elizabeth Oyer said during an event hosted by the Justice Roundtable, a coalition of criminal justice reform organizations.

That said, a categorical pardon for people with federal cannabis records is still possible if the president takes action, the former public defender, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in April, said. “Right now, the Office of the Pardon Attorney reviews every individual clemency application on an individualized basis — and that could change at the direction of the president,” Oyer said in response to a question from Marijuana Moment about the feasibility of Biden issuing mass pardons and commutations for marijuana convictions in the way Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter did for people who avoided the draft during the Vietnam War. “Currently, what we do is we look at cases individually for the most part and not categorically,” Oyer said. But she left the door open that the president could issue a directive otherwise if he wanted to....

The pardon attorney said that when her office makes clemency recommendations, it does take into account “broad categories of policy objectives or criminal justice reform goals or racial justice objectives,” and marijuana cases represent an example of such a category because they have “some sort of cohesive common characteristics.”

“So we’re absolutely taking into consideration those categories and those policy objectives and those racial equity objectives, but we don’t look at cases in a batch without individualized review,” Oyer said. “We do look at every single case individually.”

At the event, the pardon attorney also offered advice to advocates on filing clemency petition applications and addressed the “backlog” of cases under review.

Late last year, there were signals that the administration might be moving toward clemency for certain people with federal convictions. The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) started asking eligible individuals to get the process started by filing out clemency applications.

Biden has received about a dozen letters from lawmakersadvocates, celebrities and people impacted by criminalization to do something about the people who remain behind federal bars over cannabis. After months of inaction, some members of Congress like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have even sent follow-up letters demanding a response.

Among those pushing for reform is Weldon Angelos, who received a president pardon from Trump in 2020 and has since become a key advocate for criminal justice reform who has worked with both the Trump and Biden administration of furthering relief.  “It’s up to President Biden to honor his campaign promise and instruct those involved in the clemency process to prioritize cannabis cases,” Angelos told Marijuana Moment on Thursday. “There is no other group more deserving of relief than those who are incarcerated for something that society no longer considers criminal.”...

At a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing last month, Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and other Democratic lawmakers stressed the need for reforming the federal clemency process, calling for applications to be streamlined to make it easier for people with non-violent federal drug convictions to get relief.

Late last year, a coalition of congressional lawmakers introduced the Fair and Independent Experts in Clemency (FIX Clemency) Act, a bill that would take clemency review away from the Justice Department and instead establish an independent board appointed by the president.

A report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) last year affirmed that the president has it within his power to grant mass pardons for cannabis offenses. It also said that the administration can move to federally legalize cannabis without waiting for lawmakers to act.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2022/07/a-reminder-that-cannabis-clemency-is-ultimately-up-to-the-prez.html

Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Who decides | Permalink

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