President Joe Biden’s mass pardon of those convicted of simple marijuana possession on Thursday is likely to benefit many who were arrested for more serious crimes, according to a legal expert from The Heritage Foundation.
Biden announced an order Thursday pardoning thousands of people convicted of “simple possession of marijuana.” The president also called on the Health and Human Services secretary and the attorney general to “review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
“As I often said during my campaign for president, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” Biden said in a statement.
A vast majority of criminal convictions are the result of plea deals, so many of those benefiting from the president’s pardon were likely originally charged with more serious crimes, according to Paul Larkin, senior legal research fellow at The Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.
“95% of the time, federal prosecutors engage in plea bargaining,” Larkin told The Daily Wire. “Is it possible or likely people are going to benefit from this who don’t deserve it because they actually were accused of a more serious crime? Damn right there is.”
Larkin served nearly a decade investigating and prosecuting criminal cases for the Department of Justice. In addition, he served stints as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and as a special agent for, and later acting director of, the Criminal Investigation Division of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“You are going to have a very large number of people affected by this who were charged with something far more serious so that the government had leverage to get them to cooperate, and then they pled it down to a simple misdemeanor possession,” Larkin said. He gave the example of a drug runner caught smuggling contraband into the U.S. via a go-fast boat.
“Everybody who gets arrested in that circumstance for bringing in, you know, a large quantity of ganja is going to be, you know, eager to make a plea deal because they want to cut their time in prison,” Larkin said. “So what do they do? The government goes along as long as they cooperate. The guy piloting the go-fast boat says who he dealt with at the freighter and who he was supposed to deliver the cannabis to onshore. All that sort of stuff.”
“So they make cases, which is good, and then the guy who helps them out gets a break,” Larkin said.
A senior administration official told reporters on Thursday that Biden’s order is estimated to apply to “over 6,500 people” convicted of simple marijuana possession from 1992 to 2021, as well as thousands of others convicted under the Washington, D.C., drug code. The official also said that no one is in federal prison today solely on simple marijuana possession.
Trevor Burrus, research fellow for constitutional studies at the CATO Institute, said that Biden’s announcement was “welcome and long overdue.” Biden’s announcement will “hopefully be the first of many that will roll back our monstrous federal war on marijuana,” Burrus said in a statement.
“[F]or 85 years it has ruined countless lives. Marijuana should never have been prohibited, and President Biden further asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services to review marijuana’s Schedule I status will hopefully correct that error,” Burrus said.
Larkin said the timing of Biden’s pardon, coming weeks before midterms and on the heels of Biden’s student debt relief announcement, strongly suggests political motives.
“This is just, really, a fraudulent use of the pardon power because it’s designed to deceive the public into thinking he’s actually done something noble,” Larkin said. “You know, you can do the right thing for the wrong reason, and that’s what’s going on here. If you think these people should not have been convicted because this should not be a crime, then you should have done it early on.”