We support the ongoing efforts to employ the federal clemency process, both to correct lingering injustices and to ensure a more efficient and fair system. With this in mind, we propose a Cannabis Clemency Initiative that would fulfill President Biden’s campaign pledge to help those still incarcerated in federal prison for marijuana offenses.
The Cannabis Clemency Initiative would affect up to 2,700 people whose continued incarceration is inconsistent with public opinion and is an artifact of applying outdated drug policies borne largely by people of color in our most vulnerable communities. The proposal represents an important first step in a larger reform effort that builds upon the experience gained from the 2014 Obama/Biden clemency program. By addressing a category of cases already implicated by a national rethinking of drug policy and widespread calls for racial justice, the Cannabis Clemency Initiative is well-timed and well-positioned to succeed while also laying the groundwork for further reforms.
The Cannabis Clemency Initiative would evaluate commutation eligibility for two categories of individuals currently serving a federal prison sentence for a marijuana-only offense:
To expedite the process, we propose the establishment by Executive Order of a temporary Board of Review comprised of formerly incarcerated individuals, designees from the Department of Justice, representation from Federal Defender Organizations, and several Presidential appointees. In executing the proposed process, the Board would be responsible for reviewing an applicant’s eligibility under the criteria and, where appropriate, making recommendations to the President for the use of his clemency power.
The proposal’s focus on individuals incarcerated for marijuana-only offenses represents a crucial first step—freeing non-violent people imprisoned under policies Americans no longer support—which should be followed by the restoration of rights for those whose lives have been hobbled by a federal marijuana conviction. The Cannabis Clemency Initiative is thus part of broader efforts to address incarceration under outdated drug policies, as well as a call to restore the rights denied by such policies.