President Biden announced on Thursday that he would issue pardons to Americans with federal marijuana possession convictions, while encouraging governors to do the same for the much greater number of citizens convicted of similar offenses at the state level. Biden also revealed that his administration would begin the process of reviewing whether marijuana should be classified by the federal government as a dangerous Schedule I drug. While the president cannot fully legalize marijuana possession or sale without congressional approval, Biden’s actions represent a clear gesture of support for ending the enforcement of laws prohibiting its use.
For anyone who is old enough to remember the aggressiveness of the government’s anti-drug campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s, the prospect of federal marijuana decriminalization is a notable milestone. And the fact that Biden is the president overseeing this policy change seems even more remarkable. Although he was a young left-of-center adult during the 1960s, the teetotaling Biden has never exhibited any whiff of the counterculture, and his record in the Senate—especially while chairing the Judiciary Committee between 1987 and 1995—was marked by repeated support for toughening federal penalties for drug-related crimes.