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Biden announces pardons for low-level federal marijuana convictions; what that means for Virginia

The White House said Biden's executive action will benefit 6,500 people with federal convictions spanning from 1992 to 2021.

NORFOLK, Va. — President Joe Biden is pardoning all Americans who have been convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law.

That’s coming closer to keeping a 2020 campaign promise to try to get the drug decriminalized.

Here in Virginia, it became legal just this year for adults to possess up to an ounce.

The White House said Biden's executive action will benefit 6,500 people with federal convictions spanning from 1992 to 2021. It’s also going to help thousands of others charged under Washington D.C.’s criminal code.

Officials added, "there are no individuals currently in federal prison solely for simple possession of marijuana."

JM Pedini, Development Director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the move is a good start.

"While this is a historic and really important first step for the Biden administration, it’s simply not enough for American voters," Pedini said.

They say voters are anxious for Congress to take action to decriminalize the drug, which is still classified at the same level as heroin.

"Marijuana legalization, while it might not be a kitchen table topic, is overwhelmingly popular with U.S. voters," Pedini said.

Biden is asking Attorney General Merrick Garland to review that "Schedule 1" federal classification.

"Criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities," the president said in a video address.

Biden also said Thursday he's urging governors to do the same for individuals with state convictions, which administration officials said account for the vast majority of possession-related convictions.

Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the Virginia chapter of NORML, said they don’t see Gove. Glenn Youngkin doing that here.

"While these marijuana offense records have already been sealed in Virginia, the question we’re getting is: Could Gov. Youngkin issue a mass pardon for these offenses? And he certainly could, but that’s not likely."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Youngkin said they are reviewing the president’s executive action.

According to NORML, Virginia State Police have sealed 64,651 conviction records related to misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized adult use of marijuana in July of 2021. 

"While usage rates are the same, Black Virginians were arrested nearly four times more for marijuana possession than their white counterparts," Pedini said.

Biden and other activist groups say that's a national trend.

"While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates," said Biden.

13News Now also reached out to Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares for a comment, but we have not heard back.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein have voiced their support for the executive action.

In a tweet, Stein wrote, "People should not have a federal criminal record for something that is legal in an increasing number of states."

He even outlined a few potential changes including decriminalizing adult use and expunging past convictions for simple possession.

Both Stein and Cooper said they will work with lawmakers in the coming months.

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