Yesterday President Biden issued a blanket pardon of all those convicted of marijuana possession under federal law. The White House has posted the text of Biden’s proclamation of pardon is here.The White House has posted Biden’s video statement on the pardon on Twitter (below).
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) October 6, 2022
The news reports on the pardon fail to make an important point. The New York Times reports that no one will be freed from federal prison on account of Biden’s pardon because no one is “serving time in federal prisons solely for marijuana possession.” By its terms the pardon does not extend to perpetrators convicted of selling or distributing marijuana, but that has to be the effect on many of those to whom the pardon applies. Biden’s statement utterly obscures the point that at least some of those convicted in federal proceedings for marijuana possession would have pleaded guilty as part of a deal to avoid sale or distribution charges.
Biden also recites the obligatory racial disparities shibboleth. The Times extracts two quotes from the video: “Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives — for conduct that is legal in many states. That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs.” And: “While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionately higher rates.”
I don’t think the quotes say what they are supposed to say, but you know what he’s trying to say. My point about drug distribution applies here as well. I know of no evidence suggesting that illegal drug distribution is committed at equal rates between and among perpetrators categorized by race. Racial disparities permeate rates of arrest, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration because racial disparities permeate offending rates.
Biden’s pardon is a step toward the legalization of marijuana for all purposes. That seems to me an issue properly put to Congress rather than the executive branch. Biden’s statement makes no case itself for the virtues of legalization. Indeed, Biden concedes that the federal government still needs “important limitations on trafficking, marketing and underage sales of marijuana.” Again, Biden’s pardon nevertheless benefits all those who pleaded guilty to possession charges as part of a deal on more serious charges.
In the Age of Obama I addressed the racial disparities shibboleth at length in a series of posts I called “Deep secrets of racial profiling.” Michelle Alexander’s best-selling The New Jim Crow gave celebrated voice to the mindless nonsense Biden spouts in the video. I wrote about Alexander’s book in part 4 of the series.