Biden Pardons Federal Convictions for Marijuana Possession. Beto Says He'll Follow Suit in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott has previously opposed legalization of marijuana.
Gov. Greg Abbott has previously opposed legalization of marijuana. Cannabis Pictures, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would pardon everyone who was convicted under federal law for simple marijuana possession, calling on governors to do the same.

"No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana," the president said in a statement, adding that imprisoning people for such charges “has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit.”

These kinds of possession convictions “have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities," Biden said.

He also noted that Black and brown people are likelier to end up incarcerated over marijuana possession than their white counterparts, despite marijuana use rates being nearly the same across the board.

Biden also called on governors across the country to follow his lead in their states. “Just as no one should be in Federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in state or local jail for that reason, either,” he added. Contacted by the Observer, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office didn’t respond to request for comment on the announcement. In the past, the Republican governor has said he supported reducing criminal penalties for marijuana possession but opposed legalization.

During a roundtable in May, Abbott said minor marijuana possession should be reduced to a class C misdemeanor "so that we will be keeping those jails open for dangerous criminals." 

In May, The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler released a survey that found most Texans support legalizing marijuana. Of those polled, 83% backed allowing marijuana for medical use, and six in 10 people said it should be legalized for recreational use.

A more recent Morning News and UT Tyler poll found slightly lower numbers. Still, that survey concluded that more than half of Texans support legalizing weed for recreational purposes.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke, who will face off with Abbott in November, responded to Biden's announcement on Twitter by promising to follow suit. "When I’m governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession," he wrote.
Last year, the Dallas Police Department announced it wouldn't charge people for possessing small quantities of marijuana. “Those small amounts, those don’t excite me,” DPD Chief Eddie Garcia said at the time. “Arresting individuals that are victimizing our city, that excites me. Getting drug dealers excites me.”

Other North Texas cities have enacted similar measures, with the Fort Worth Police Department halting arrests and citations over small amounts of weed and Plano PD opting to issue citations rather than make arrests for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana.

In November, voters in the city of Denton will decide whether to decriminalize marijuana via an item on the ballot. If voters approve the ordinance in Denton, local police would be barred from issuing citations or making arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession. 
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Patrick Strickland is the former news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's worked as a senior reporter at Al Jazeera English. His reporting has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.

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