Biden’s Federal Marijuana Pardon and What It Means for Ohio

President Biden recently announced that he is taking executive action to pardon those convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law. Biden also called on state governors to take similar action and erase state-level offenses for simple marijuana possession.

Although recreational marijuana remains illegal in Ohio, 30 cities across the state have decriminalized cannabis. Ohio Democrats are urging Governor Mike DeWine to follow Biden’s example, but his office has noted that Ohio law does not permit him to issue blanket pardons. Anyone seeking a pardon for a marijuana conviction must apply individually. Criminal record sealing involves a separate process.

Response From DeWine’s Office

The executive order from Biden is expected to pardon around 6,500 people federally convicted of possessing marijuana. That number is so low because most people are sentenced to jail or prison for marijuana possession at the state level. Accordingly, Biden encouraged governors to follow suit and issue pardons for simple possession at the state level.

However, according to Dan Tierney, the press secretary for Gov. DeWine, the request doesn’t make sense in Ohio, where state law prohibits granting blanket clemency. Tierney did not say whether DeWine would issue individual pardons to those previously charged with simple marijuana possession.

Ohio Marijuana Laws

Ohio is one of 37 states that has legalized cannabis for medical purposes, but recreational marijuana remains illegal here. Statewide, around 3 million residents are covered by a decriminalization ordinance.

Democratic representatives Casey Weinstein and Terrence Upchurch sent a letter to Gov. DeWine urging him to issue pardons for marijuana possession. Weinstein and Upchurch are the sponsors of House Bill 382, which would legalize marijuana recreationally in Ohio. The Republican-sponsored House Bill 498 would do the same.

Nearly 40,000 Ohio residents were arrested for marijuana possession from 2018 – 2020, according to NORML.

If recreational marijuana legislation efforts fail, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is poised to present the issue directly to Ohio voters as a November 2023 ballot initiative. About 60% of Ohioans said they support legalizing recreational marijuana in a Siena College poll of likely voters, versus 37% who opposed.

Under current state law, mandatory prison time for marijuana possession starts at 20 kilograms, or slightly more than 44 pounds. Possessing less than 100 grams, or just under one-quarter pound, is a minor misdemeanor. Ohio judges may consider jail or probation when someone possesses a kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of marijuana.

About 37,000 Ohioans were arrested for marijuana possession from 2018 – 2020, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

How Rescheduling Marijuana Could Affect Ohio

Biden’s executive order additionally directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to review whether marijuana should remain a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act—the same class as drugs like heroin and LSD. By comparison, fentanyl and methamphetamine are classified as Schedule II narcotics.

If marijuana is federally de-scheduled, it would immediately become legal in many states. Removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances or moving it from Schedule I to Schedule III would make the substance legal overnight in Ohio, and it could be sold by anyone, anywhere in the state. If that happens, Ohio would have no regulations in place to prohibit cannabis sales to minors, says WKNB.com.

Seeking a Fresh Start After a Criminal Conviction? Talk to Graham & Graham

Marijuana law reform advocates note that Ohioans convicted of marijuana possession often are denied housing, employment, and education, and that pardons could help them to advance their careers, obtain good-paying jobs, secure housing, and receive college funding.

The Ohio Governor’s Expedited Pardon Project aims to speed up the process of seeking a pardon for a criminal conviction. However, a pardon does not seal, or “expunge,” a person’s criminal record.

If you qualify for Ohio record sealing, the criminal defense lawyers at Graham & Graham may be able to help. To discuss your case, free of charge, Call 1-800-621-8585 or contact us.

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