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Congressional Black Caucus applauds Biden marijuana, cocaine pardons

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) applauded President Biden’s marijuana and crack cocaine pardons Friday as a step toward ending “long-standing racial disparities” in sentencing. 

The pardons will apply to marijuana use and possession on certain federal land and commute the sentences of 11 individuals serving jail sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. 

“The new [Justice Department] guidelines are a positive step forward in addressing long-standing racial disparities in crack and powder cocaine sentencing, which for generations, has disproportionately imprisoned Black Americans,” the CBC said in a statement.

Some of those granted clemency were convicted to life in prison for crack cocaine-related offenses.

Convictions and sentencing for marijuana “disproportionately incarcerated and upended the lives of far too many Black Americans by creating barriers to employment, education, and housing,” the CBC added. 

In 2022, Biden issued a similar round of pardons, though the action did not see anyone released from prison. 

Biden’s actions are part of a larger effort to fulfill racial justice promises made on the campaign trail in 2020.

At the time, Biden called for automatic expungement of cannabis use convictions.

The Biden reelection campaign has been working to reengage with Black voters ahead of the 2024 election; the demographic was key to his victory in 2020, in part due to racial justice promises, including criminal justice reform. 

Eighty percent of Black Americans believe it is important to reduce the incarcerated population, according to a 2022 poll by, and 81 percent of Black voters said they would be inclined to vote for a candidate who supports reducing incarceration. 

Though the CBC applauded Biden’s pardons Friday, members are still calling for more. 

“It is our hope that clemency be granted to more Black Americans who have been criminalized by the decades-old policies of the War on Drugs era,” the CBC said.

Since the war on drugs, Black Americans have faced harsher prison sentencing than their white counterparts, in part due to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. 

The act declared that possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine, which was disproportionately consumed by African Americans, resulted in an automatic five-year jail sentence, while it took 500 grams of powder cocaine, which was mostly consumed by white Americans, to trigger the same punishment. 

Today, white Americans are more likely to use crack cocaine than Black Americans, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, but Black Americans are still sentenced to longer prison terms for nonviolent drug offenses. 

But the war on drugs was also, in part, intended as a racial policy, as President Nixon’s domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman admitted in 1994. 

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin and then criminalizing them both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night in the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did,” Ehrlichman said.

Today, Black Americans make up about 13 percent of the population, but the FBI reports that they account for 27 percent of people who are arrested and 30 percent of people on community supervision. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that Black Americans make up 32 percent of incarcerated people.

Source: The Hill

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