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Senators Warren, Markey call on Biden to issue blanket cannabis pardons

Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey sent President Biden a letter on Wednesday urging him to use his executive authority to pardon all individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis offenses, “whether formerly or currently incarcerated.”

The Massachusetts Democrats were joined by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley in calling on Biden to carry out the views on marijuana reform he laid out on the campaign trail, when he argued that such crimes should be “completely zeroed out.”

In 2019, during one of the Democratic primary debates, Biden said, “Number one, I think we should decriminalize marijuana, period.” He added: “And I think everyone — anyone who has a record should be let out of jail, their records expunged.”


The senators wrote that Biden has the authority to “pardon broad classes of Americans to correct widespread injustice, as previous Presidents have done.” While cannabis policies “must be completely overhauled,” the lawmakers said he has the power to “act now.”

“You can and should issue a blanket pardon for all nonviolent federal cannabis offenses, fulfilling your promises to the American people and transforming the lives of tens of thousands Americans,” the senators wrote.

In making their case to Biden, the senators argued that the nation’s marijuana laws have “punished Black and Brown communities for too long” — citing the War on Drugs launched by President Nixon in the 1970s, which generated policies that led to the mass incarceration of Black and Brown communities.

Black Americans remain approximately “3.64 times more likely” to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person today, according to a report published by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2020.

“Most importantly, such a pardon — combined with your leadership on an accessible expungement process to formally clear the criminal records of those affected — would mark the beginning of a reversal of decades of ineffective and discriminatory cannabis policies, allowing Americans to return to their communities, find housing and jobs, and rebuild their lives without the burdens of an unjustly imposed criminal record,” the senators wrote.


Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use by adults, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-seven states — from New Hampshire to Illinois — and the District of Columbia have decriminalized small amounts of cannabis.

Although Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called legalizing marijuana “one of the high priorities” of Democrats, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a press briefing in July that Biden remains unmoved on endorsing such legislation.

Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her @shannonlarson98.