What Biden’s Marijuana Pardon Means For Cannabis

On October 6th, 2022, President Biden issued a pardon for all people federally convicted of simple marijuana possession. Biden’s surprise move puts the legal status of cannabis back on centerstage.

Will the federal government decide to legalize cannabis for the entire United States, or do they continue to leave that decision up to the states? For years, the federal government has left the decision to legalize medical and recreational cannabis up to the states. However, with Biden’s new intervention, the federal government may finally be prepared to take the reins on legalizing cannabis.

Biden’s pardon may seem like a watershed moment for cannabis legalization. However, the reality is that cannabis legalization still remains locked in a complex political process. There have been attempts to legalize medical marijuana, decriminalize marijuana possession, and reclassify the schedule of cannabis, but all efforts to legalize cannabis have failed. Can Biden and the current government push to legalize cannabis before the midterms next month, or is the future of legal cannabis still distant? Also, what does Biden’s pardon mean for hemp-derived cannabinoids like CBD and Delta 8? We have the answers about the federal legal status of cannabis and some theories about the possible timetable for the federal legalization of cannabis. Soon, you will know precisely what Biden’s marijuana pardon means for the future of cannabis.

The Pardon

Before we dive into the legal intricacies of cannabis, we should begin by analyzing Biden’s pardon. Foremost, Biden issued a pardon to people federally convicted of simple marijuana possession. The pardon may seem like a wide-sweeping piece of legislation that will affect people convicted of cannabis-related crimes across the United States, but in reality, it is a small maneuver.

Firstly, the pardon only applies to people convicted of simple marijuana possession. The terms of federal simple marijuana possession apply to any amount of marijuana. Unlike many states, there is no “intent to sell” if you have over a specified amount. The penalty for the initial possession is a minimum fine of $1000 and up to one year in jail. If you are convicted again, then the penalties continue to get worse. Therefore, the law only applies to people convicted of possessing marijuana, not people who sold marijuana or cultivated cannabis plants.

Secondly, the pardon only applies to people federally convicted of simple marijuana possession. This means that the federal government either arrested these people, likely through the FBI or the ATF, or a person was convicted of simple marijuana possession in a federal court. Most people imprisoned for simple marijuana possession are usually convicted at the local or state level, and the federal pardon will not apply to them.

Overall, the seemingly colossal pardon is little more than a political move to gain goodwill. The White House said that the number of people affected by this pardon will number in the thousands. This is a far cry from the number of people affected by marijuana-related arrests in the United States. In 2020 alone, there were over 350,000 marijuana-related arrests, and almost all of these were not federal crimes. Therefore, this pardon is a mere drop in the bucket of cannabis reform. Yet, this is all Biden has the power to do without the help of congress. Biden can only issue federal pardons; people convicted at the state level are eligible for pardons from their state’s governor. Biden has encouraged many state governors to follow suit, and it remains to be seen if these governors also issue pardons for simple marijuana possession. Although the pardon is a small gesture, it does help people, and it may be the springboard for more significant cannabis legalization in the near future.

What Is Next For Federal Cannabis Legalization?

In July 2022, Chuck Schumer introduced a bill to the Senate that would federally decriminalize marijuana. The decriminalization of marijuana is a high priority for Schumer, the current majority leader in the Senate. For Schumer and many other Democrats, Biden’s pardon was a surprise. For a party with cannabis legalization as a high priority, it is odd that President Biden did not discuss his pardon with any Senators or Representatives. Sadly, this shows that the Democrats’ approach to federal legalization has not changed. It is still woefully disjointed.

With the midterm elections arriving in about a month, Senators and Representatives are doing all they can to build political goodwill in the coming weeks. Federal legalization of cannabis would do wonders for the current legislators’ chances in their elections, especially the Democrats who have made legalization a priority. However, the likelihood of Biden’s pardon being a precursor to legal cannabis by the end of the month is slim to none.

Many Democratic Senators still oppose the federal legalization of cannabis. Furthermore, several Republican Senators will also have to vote for cannabis legalization. Although several Republican Senators support cannabis legalization, it is unlikely they would want to make a deal anytime soon, especially in the next few weeks. If legal cannabis is not going to happen by the midterms, when will it happen?

The wait for federally legal cannabis may be an extended one. Biden has said that he does not support cannabis legalization. Furthermore, he made it clear that his pardon was centered around preventing people from being incarcerated for possession of marijuana. Biden’s pardon may indicate that federal cannabis decriminalization is on its way, likely before the end of Biden’s first term in office. However, the future of federally legal cannabis is murky. It is likely that the current group of legislators will never federally legalize cannabis, and only with the addition of new Senators will legalization be possible.

The Future Of Alternative Cannabinoids

In 2018, the federal government legalized the hemp plant. From the hemp plant come cannabinoids like CBD and Delta 8. These alternative cannabinoids are in a legal gray area, and if you wish to dig into the legal intricacies, you can learn more here. Basically, hemp-derived cannabinoids are federally legal, even though no law makes them “explicitly” legal. Considering how alternative cannabinoids have become a massive market in recent years, one would expect that they would be effectively legislated, but this is not the case.

Cannabinoids like Delta 8 are restricted in some states but are not wholly illegal. This is because state governments cannot make a law that goes against federal law. For example, South Carolina could not make a law lowering the drinking age to 16 because the federal law says that the drinking age in the United States is 21. However, some states can restrict alternative cannabinoids because no federal law says Delta 8 (or other cannabinoids) are legal. Therefore, all clarity on the legal status of alternative cannabinoids can only be decided by future federal government legislation. If we have learned anything about the federal government and cannabis, it is that they are more likely to do nothing than do anything at all. Biden’s pardon does not make alternative cannabinoids any closer to legal or illegal, and it is unlikely any federal legislation will be introduced shortly to change their status.


The wait for legal cannabis will almost certainly continue into the near future. All of the hope that Biden’s pardon for federal


marijuana crimes might lead to federal legalization is unfounded. The disjointed priorities of the Democratic party and the difficulty in garnering bipartisan support for a legalization bill make significant federal changes related to cannabis practically impossible. Although cannabis decriminalization may be just around the corner, meaning hundreds of thousands of people can have their criminal history expunged. Even though what Biden did was small, it will still change the lives of thousands of people who are looking for jobs, places to live, and peace of mind. As for alternative cannabinoids, the hesitancy to pass any bills concerning cannabis means that their legal status will not change anytime soon. So, while you wait for Delta 9 to be legalized, you can enjoy some Delta 8 for the time being.